Article of the month

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 16:55

How to Explore Black and White in Colours

David Gutmann
with Christopher Verrier

Abstract

This paper is based on the workshop Diversidad, Relaciones Raciales y Transformación organized by Color Cubano (La Havana, Cuba) and The International Forum for Social Innovation (IFSI), based in Paris, France, which took place over four days in November 2006 in The National Council of the Houses of Culture in Havana, Cuba.  It was organised to provide an opportunity to begin to understand the difficulty of recognizing, touching and interpreting racially discriminatory processes within an institutional setting, in a political system that promotes voluntary equality. As with everywhere else in the world, the act of uncovering hidden dynamics based on unconscious processes triggers strong resistances.

Origins of the Workshop

Since its inception, this workshop has been fascinating. It has also been very challenging working with Cuban colleagues, in Cuba, on issues that have been the core of IFSI work over the past thirty years. These issues include the promotion of leadership and authority in social systems, Institutional Transformation including its political dimension, and learning from experience in innovation and transformation in a country driven by a Revolution.
Our cooperation began concretely in 2001 with the CIPS . Since then an annual working conference, partly international, has been organised almost every year. The last, called Liderazgo, Participassión and TransformaCción , was co-organised in April 2007 in Cuba by the University of Havana in the Faculty of Psychology and IFSI, with the support of Gesta and Fordes .
Some years ago, Gisela Arandia founded, and still leads, an association called Color Cubano, which aims to work on problems of racial relations in Cuban society. She and her daughter took part in the workshop in April 2006 and, as a black woman, she understood how this process of intervention could tackle in a critical way the understanding and the transformation of racial relations in Cuba. Taking into account the conscious as well as the unconscious dimensions of the issue, it could help participants of a workshop to work out their own relation to issues of race and to transform their practice of racial relations in the Cuban society.
This idea led her to initiate a partnership between Color Cubano and IFSI around the possibility of creating a specific workshop on this theme. To facilitate this new venture, Gisela Arandia and her daughter continued to extend their training in IFSI approaches by taking part as participants in various working conferences: The Passion Of Entrepreneurship organized near Bologna by Istituto di Studi di Medicina Omeopatica, ISMO (with the support of IFSI), Italy, in June 2006; F.L.A.M. (Femininity, Leadership, Authority and Masculinity), held by IFSI in Saint-Raphaël, France and the Praxis International Network meeting in Paris, in October 2006. As a result of this on-going cooperation between Color Cubano and IFSI, a new workshop, Diversidad, Relaciones Raciales y Transformación, was organised.

1 CIPS: El Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas (Ministry of Labour). These three institutions are based in La Havana, Cuba.
2 Leadership, Participation and TransformaCtion.
3 GESTA: Centro de Gestión Empresarial, Superación Técnica y Administrativa (Ministry of the Steel and Mechanical Industries). FORDES: Centro Coordinador para la Formación y el Desarrollo del Capital Humano (Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Systems).

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The Organising Institutions

The International Forum for Social Innovation (IFSI) is based in Paris, France and gives itself the task of facilitating social innovation as a way of contributing to the institutional transformation of organisations. These include both religious and secular public and private companies, public administrations, associations, teaching and educational institutions. IFSI considers institutions as living systems that need to transform in order to exist. This transformation concerns authority figures, leadership, transformation of the system-in-the-mind , and many other crucial elements which have been explored in various events organised in IFSI.
Since 1978, IFSI has organized in France an annual international working conference on the theme of Authority, Leadership and Transformation. In 2005, it became the TransformaCtion® conference. Over many years, IFSI has also been developing and conducting conferences in many different countries (Australia, Belgium, the West Indies, Catalonia in Spain, Cuba, Finland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Palestinian Authority, Peru, United Kingdom, Ukraine and USA), in partnership with universities and other organisations, on similar and complementary themes. Since 2001, it has been running, in partnership with the Business School, University of Glamorgan UK, and then with the Business School of the University of Hull UK, a training programme for managers and consultants, under the name Leading Consultation (M. Phil, Ph.D.).
In January 2004, IFSI developed a new international annual conference on the theme of Femininity, Leadership, Authority and Masculinity: the FLAM conference.

Color Cubano is a working group that aims to create the conditions for a cultural, political and social dialogue to enhance the national consensus by providing a place for reflection and analysis to make recommendations for improved race relations in Cuba. For more than five years, this project has worked intensively to encourage a coherent debate on the theme of racism, racial discrimination and prejudice with the aim of raising awareness about social inequalities that still exist today. The name, Color Cubano was used by the national poet Nicolás Guillén in 1939 in the prologue of his book Songoro Consongo.
By leading this dialogue Color Cubano has been able to give a voice to the diversity of criteria that can transform discrimination based on skin colour. This theoretical process also involved academic experts and identified some of the manifestations that have survived the impact of the revolution and which, in certain sectors of Cuban society, have even extended their influence in both hidden and open ways. In its first essence, this project claims to encourage the emancipating quest in its most historical and libertarian form. At the same time, it points towards the reinforcement of a nation united, in an inclusive way, able to face new challenges imposed by the neo liberal model.
The basic objectives of this group start from an intellectual and political viewpoint that tends to structure the struggle against racism by defining racism as a manifestation that opposes the principles of the revolution and social justice promoted since 1959. In this way, the group hopes to promote a cultural process that will help to open possibilities for a debate that will reinforce these ideological and cultural alliances in order to show the urgent necessity of accepting this problem in its entirety and the dangers that continuing to neglect it would bring. The group has evaluated, in a responsible manner, the incompatibility between any kind of racism and the socialist proposal that Cuba is building. It has also evaluated the way in which all these manifestations of racism dramatically destroy the political fabric and weaken any possibility of equality. The focal point of this group opens various directions.
Initially, their objectives were directed to those writers and artists who insisted on analysing racism as an ethical process that is in opposition to any process of liberation. From this premise, the group worked on using opportunities opened by this artistic vanguard to draw the attention of the general public to the need to confront the problem.
Concurrent with this intellectual approach, Color Cubano gave special attention to the community project Concha Macoyú La California created in 1995 which was the initial inspiration for a proposal to explore racism. Since then, we have been able to show various examples of practical progress in the black community.
Considering the three perspectives involved, writers and artists, academics and the community project, the group encouraged participative discussions as a way of gathering a sample of the state of opinion on the theme over a large spectrum in which various voices converged. This on-going debate allowed the group to access views representing the various opinions that exist today in Cuban society about the need to confront racism, discrimination and racial prejudice. It was a way of thinking diametrically opposed to revolutionary ideology.
From this perspective, and in a modest way, Color Cubano also elaborated critical reflections and recommendations in order to find the appropriate processes for reaching racial equality in Cuba. Its work has had a significant impact in Cuba as well as in various events organised abroad. Now, the immediate aim focuses not only on facilitating debate but also on the creation of proposals for inquiries and recommendations for building, through participation, an action plan useful for the Party and the Government who are always looking to improve equality in Cuban society.

The Consejo Nacional Casas de Cultura (The National Council of Houses of Culture) is part of the network of Cuban institutions registered to the Minister of Culture. It is able to achieve academic and methodological consultation throughout the entire country. The system of Houses of Culture is integrated into a national council, which includes fourteen provincial centres, one municipal centre and 328 houses of culture. Its aim is to promote access to culture and to provide the whole population with services and cultural experiences to sustain a healthy use of free time, all this despite social imbalances between various territories. It also promotes cultural work in schools, urban districts and communities. The fundamental idea is to offer workshops in the appreciation and creation of the arts including sculpture, dance, music, theatre and literature. As a result of this work, since the beginning of the ‘Triumph of the Revolution’ in 1959, the country has gained huge numbers of amateur artists as part of the state contribution to both individual and collective human development in Cuba.

4 Here is a possible definition of system-in-the-mind (SIM). SIM is the systemic construction – the system – through which every individual represents, in an unconscious way if it is not worked through, his (her) environment. This construction at least influences – but often determines – his (her) relationships, behaviour, decisions, vision of himself (herself) and place in the universe. SIM comes directly from the person’s history and his (her) relationships with his original institutions (family, school, …). It structures the individual and conditions his (her) relationships with institutions in the here and now.

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The Context in Cuba

A Huge Process of Mixing
As with most of the European colonies in the Caribbean, the island of Cuba was ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and carries memories of the indigenous population, Taïnos and Karibs, who were killed over a period of a few years by the Conquistadores. Then the triangular trade provided black slaves from Africa who were mastered by white European colonials from Spain. This process lasted from 1513 till 1886 when slavery was abolished. Cuba remained a Spanish colony until 1898 when it became nominally independent under the United States which reserved the right to intervene in its affairs until 1934. From 1935 the dictator, Fulgencio Batista dominated Cuba until he was overthrown by Fidel Castro in January 1959. The Castro Revolution took control of the country by launching an egalitarian communist system. Today, more than half, 51%, of the 11 million people in Cuba are mixed parentage, 37% are white and 11% black.

The Promotion of an Egalitarian System
Color Cubano’s contribution has been very significant. As with everywhere else in the world, Cuban society seems to present an official appearance and another that is hidden and more difficult to touch. Here, the appearance is very specific because of the tremendous efforts of the communist system to promote equality. Any discrimination is forbidden. The condition of women is promoted. The percentage of children in education is very high. The reputation of the Cuban health system particularly in public health is uncontested. But the reality shows that racism and prejudice have survived the ‘revolutionary impact’. Social groups, apparently based on the colour of their skin, appear to share some common difficulties such as limited access to power, reduced positions in society and increased rates of imprisonment. We believe that, in any place in the world, the historical context of a country drives unconscious forces at work in its society. This seems to be particularly true in the Caribbean islands where history has included slavery, colonisation and domination. Also, the traditional difficulty of accepting differences among human beings deeply influences Cuban society. It is vitally important to have the ability to acknowledge these processes in order to work on them, as in the workshop. Not to do so creates a phenomenon of denial with all its consequences.

Ostracism Towards Foreigners
One interesting aspect of this discussion might be around the concept of universality of human beings. In Cuba, whatever the reality of daily life is, the political system – in its constant quest for equity and equality – is clearly inspired by such concepts as the fight against racial discrimination and prejudice. Discrimination towards foreigners is very strong, very apparent in daily life: difficulties in relating outside institutional settings, no authorisation to share the same spaces (hotel, shops, etc). Despite this, discrimination is not necessarily based on racial criteria. The result might be the same when viewed on the basis of any idea of universalism that affects the whole country systematically.

A Difficult Working Environment
In order for this workshop to occur at all two specific last minute obstacles had to be overcome. First of all the middle-aged Cuban man, initially hired as Coordinator of Resources for the workshop, suddenly lost his permission to work, probably because he had also just been excluded from the Communist Party when it was discovered that he had applied for immigration to Canada. Then the workshop venue was cancelled at the last moment and a ‘B plan’ had to be rapidly found. Thankfully the National Council of Houses of Culture offered several rooms in its offices in Vedado, Havana but as they had to continue their work in the same building, the workshop had to be held in parallel with their daily activities. Our joint use of the building created several boundary problems between the two organisations. Their staff had to be accommodated somewhere else and that entailed huge problems of transportation exacerbated by the normal difficulties of daily life in Cuba.
It may also be that these difficulties were related to unconscious resistances to the workshop. As is usual, the workshop’s capacity for revelation, for identifying and working on issues that are usually denied as taboos, seemed to have been anticipated by the system and so it developed a hidden but active resistance against it.
The final working conditions were difficult particularly because the available space was very limited. Participants were crammed into rooms that reminded us of the barranqueros. These are the makeshift districts in Havana where black and people of mixed backgrounds lived during colonisation and still exist today.

A “Prison in the Mind”.

The observation of the identity games in the conference (and in its environment) revealed an image of two societies coming face to face in a mirror-like situation. Let us develop this working hypothesis…

On both sides, everything was happening in a mental state which fueled a mutual exclusion. This mental state was structured by a closed representation of oneself and of the society one belonged to. The image which came to us was confinement. Each person, whether Israeli or Palestinian, confronted the other with a confined mood. On the Palestinian side, it was a “Prison in the Mind” ; on the Israeli side, it was a “Ghetto in the mind”.

The working hypothesis, called “Prison in the Mind”, was formulated by the staff during the conference while trying to understand the behavior of participants who had been in the Israeli prisons for a long time. These participants lived as if they were constantly constrained by hostile authorities (embodied by the staff or other participants). Were they not acting as if prison remained within them ?

It appeared to us that the “Prison in the Mind” could be a good metaphor for the unconscious representation of life for the Palestinians : in general, prison is a closed place, where existence is organized around one sex, as if only part of life were possible. In Palestine, the “Prison” exists because of the curfew, the temporary closing of territories, the walls and the barbed wire, all elements which achieve the confinement of a people in the Palestinians’ daily life. Observing what was happening during the conference, the staff thought that Palestinians had a “Prison in the Mind”.

Afterwards it appeared to us that, confronted with this representation, the Israelis opposed maybe another type of confinement : we called it the “Ghetto in the Mind”, as if images from the Jewish people’s history confronted the Palestinians’. The Ghetto stands in a surviving dimension, as people desperatly try to stay alive.

Thus, each Middle-Eastern participant opposed the other, and him/herself, with a confined state of mind. These strongly internalized representations had to be worked out during the conference.

Let us note that these two types of confinement are not complementary. Somehow, they reproduce the political and human situation in the Middle-East, which was blocked until the Oslo agreements. These agreements initiated an actual transformation (a concrete, noticeable one). But transformation “in the mind” has been more uncertain, as showed by Rabin’s assassination : some are firmly opposed to the peace process, on the Jewish side as well as on the Arab side.

Once these representations revealed, how could the staff work them out ? How does one engage a transformation process ? How does one leave confinement ?
During the conference, the image of a tunnel appeared as a way out of a confinement. The participants worked on this image. How does one escape from a prison ? From the ghetto ? Can a tunnel be the answer ? The tunnel, just like the one in Jerusalem, was another cause of fight between Jews and Arabs in September 1996.

But the tunnel does not allow two parties to meet ; it is not a Forum, a place of discussion, of exchange; it is a “closed exit”. The tunnel places someone directly on the other side, on the adverse side… The tunnel is also a good metaphor for the inevitability of fate. The invocation of fate enables us to act without any responsability… without any authority.

The task of the staff was to detect these resistances (the “Images in the Mind”) and to reveal them in order to help the participants in taking their own authority, so as to become co-authors of one transformation.

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The Working Approach

A four-day specific programme was developed for this workshop. As usual, participants were invited to take part in two kinds of sessions: the ‘here-and-now’ and ‘reflection’ sessions.
The ‘here and now’ provides participants with an institutional setting that they can use to explore and experience the themes of the workshop. This exploration is very practical and vibrant. It is done individually and/or institutionally, with or without the help of staff. It includes action, place and role, taken or projected, but also feelings, emotions and physical sensations that help to touch and discern individual and collective unconscious processes.
Working through these sessions, participants enact usually what is required of the situation, in interaction with the other participants; but also what comes from themselves, from their inner personal histories, for instance, systems-in-the mind repeated within the workshop, patterns inherited from childhood, from the family or other early institutions.
The ‘reflection’ sessions are designed to offer participants opportunities to associate in a creative way; to discuss their experiences in order to be able to identify and interpret them through working hypotheses. As soon as a discovery is made or a piece of learning from experience is shared, participants are invited to transform their behaviour accordingly, using the workshop as a contained space that is particularly appropriate for such trials, attempts or new experiences.

This workshop was directly inspired by FLAM, created by Jacqueline Ternier-David and David Gutmann and the last-born international working conference of IFSI . The central themes were femininity, leadership, authority and masculinity in the institutional life. It is interesting to note that one of the intuitions of its founders was that nowadays social and institutional structures and systems may shift from a model built around a unique centre to another offering a poly-nuclear configuration. The place and the dynamics that each person negotiates within these centres will influence their institutional life and behaviour.
This intuition directly offered the structure for the first ‘here and now’ event, called the Sistema Diversidad (Systematic Diversity). Its primary task was to study the experience of racial polarity in a large system and to understand the relationship dynamics created consciously and unconsciously among the participants within the system. The seating designed for this session was a line of chairs arranged in a continuing double spiral.
The second ‘here and now’ event was the Sistema de Relaciones Raciales y Relaciones Raciales Aplicadas (System of Race Relations and Race Relations Application). It was also based on the experience, methodology and design of the FLAM. Institutional Event in FLAM and Flam’n Co. It offered a space for learning by experience where participants were invited to liberate themselves from their traditional approaches to diversity, race relations and transformation. Participants created relationships and subsystems among themselves. Then they had to build a form of representative government that invited the expression, exploration and transformation of their usual approaches. The management next invited participants to create, by drawing lots, four sub-systems called Diversity, Race, Relationships and Transformation. Then it announced that a government would be composed using one representative from each subsystem. At this point, the government would take up the role of management of the session, elect its own president publicly while workshop staff would leave this role and become the team of advisers.
To associate and reflect on these experiences, participants were offered ‘reflection’ sessions such as Plenary Sessions, Active Meditation Events, TransformaCtion Analysis Groups (or TAG) and a Discernment Session where they had to study their experiences in their various roles within the workshop in order to anticipate future transformations within both the workshop and their back home institutions.
The eight-member staff team for the workshop was composed on the basis of diversity. Besides David Gutmann, a white French Director, the staff included four Cuban women, two of mixed parentage, one black and one white, a Peruvian white woman, a Trinidadian black man, and a Spanish Catalan white man. The diversity appeared also in terms of age, from 26 to 66, and religion, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Agnostic.
Thirty-five participants, from 20 to 60 years old, registered for the workshop. They were all Cuban except for a black man from the United States. The membership represented very diverse parts of Cuban society, intellectuals, professors and students, workers, artists, painters, sculptors, poets, writers and rap singers. The majority of participants were black or of mixed parentage. There were no white men among the participants and the majority were women.
The primary task of the workshops was to explore the relationship between diversity, racial relationships and their transformation through the experience of the workshop as a temporary learning institution.

www.ifsi-fiis-conferences.com

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Challenges and Resistances of the Workshop

What happened within the workshop was obviously very rich, interesting and moving. We have selected some parts of this complex institutional path that appear to us as the most significant.

The Leaving of the only Foreign Participant

The only foreign participant left the workshop during the first day immediately after the Active Meditation Event. He did not say why and only shared his feeling of ‘entering into a religious workshop’. He was a black man who was a professor in the United States staying for a while at the University of Havana. Beyond the various associations that this situation suggested such as discrimination against foreigners, the link with racial relationships in the United States and the focus on a black man, the most systemic hypothesis was to link his experience to the trajectory of another participant who was the only white woman in the Government.
The most revealing aspect was that she was sitting in a corner while her three black and mixed parentage Government colleagues were standing up. The Director interpreted her role as a ‘white Queen with her black slaves’. Being unable to differentiate between the systemic projected role and the chosen role, she began a kind of strike, refusing to really participate in the following sessions in which she was merely present. This could reveal an attempt to explore from experience how a Cuban system deals with differentiation processes and a sense of privilege.
In another dimension of the workshop, the difficult material context of its realisation had not improved. One of the three coordinators, an older black Cuban woman, head of Color Cubano and co-founder of the workshop, appeared suddenly as the black good mother because of constant efforts that she had to deploy to maintain, with many contradictions, the boundaries between the workshop and the daily activity of the Council.
Perhaps a mirroring process appeared between staff and participants. In the staff team a white foreign Director paired with a black Cuban good mother, this couple having created the workshop. An inverse couple of a black foreign man and a white Cuban woman who were both unable to really deploy their authority within the system appeared among the participants. It was as if this couple was created by the membership as an answer to the huge impact that the staff of the workshop, representing also its primary task, had on them.

A black female President

During the Sistema de Relaciones Raciales (System of Racial Relations) and Relaciones Raciales Aplicadas (Racial Relations Application), the membership chose four women as Government: two were black, one mixed blood and one white. Then, the Government publicly elected its blackest member as President.
Apparently, the system seemed to be very anxious not only to experience such a democratic process, but also to discover its potency. Participants had many difficulties containing emotion and the process ended with physical attacks against staff during the last session. After this trauma, the next morning during the following Sistema Diversidad (Diversity System), a black female dictator emerged from the system. She was then excluded from the session through a painful and difficult process.
This sequence was seen as representing strong ambivalence between political models. On the one hand, a democratic process is proposed and applied despite much resistance and hesitation. On the other, the model of a repeated revolution spontaneously emerges that is unable to create the conditions of the real transformation that is required. In addition, some ambivalence is expressed through the repeated emergence of black female leaders as an inverse image of Fidel Castro (a white male).

In other words, the members elaborated first a real progression in electing a fully interracial government. Even more, it was composed only of women! Of course, there was a majority of women, both in the staff and in the membership. But, in a deeper way, this might represent a desire to transform the traditional leadership by trying a totally unusual configuration, mirroring the fact that interbreeding between races can only happen through women.
In this phase, they were certainly influenced by the title and aims of the workshop, as well as the way they could perceive the director and the staff in general. They might have looked for a connection with them in a way that did not exclude seduction and a certain “politically correct” spirit. But such a “zig” (progression) can frighten, even terrify, and created then the conditions of a “zag” (regression), which actually happened and lasted until almost the end of the workshop (except for the very last sessions).
This “zag”, and more particularly the physical attacks on the staff, was triggered by a song chosen from a CD by the staff: “My Way”, by Frank Sinatra. In selecting this song, the staff aimed to openly draw the members’ attention on their own specific way of acting, based on repeating habits. (Actually, “My Way” is Frank Sinatra’s English adaptation of a very well-known French song called “Comme d’habitude” ["As Usual"], written and sung by Claude François in 1967. Maybe the members had (unconscious) knowledge of this information, which reinforces the focus here of the staff on repeating habits.)

This process, and the feeling of being unveiled, created a strong irritation, a fury, leading the members to perpetrate physical attacks on the staff! Only the director was not touched, not because of any impressive physical aspect, but probably because the members felt that he had to be preserved at all costs.

We believe that this feeling of the members’ came from the specific role that the director takes in this kind of conference. In fact, the members had a special awareness that the director is specifically linked to the unconscious (on behalf of the entire workshop) and ultimately represents its primary task, as well as the potentiality and faith inherent in this task.

This experience might reflect the uncertainty and anxiety created by the process of transition that will take place after the Castro brothers are no longer the leaders of Cuba. Does it anticipate the emergence of a black dictator (as happened in Haïti two centuries ago)? And does the leaving of the black North American Professor suggest that the only final solution for such a dictator is exile in the USA?
In terms of the spiritual dimension, the Director might be perceived as a white god coming from abroad, over the sea, with his black and mixed blood believers and a white servant, creating a new religion and mirroring Fidel Castro. Of course, in such a configuration, the staff would also be mirroring the white Queen with her black slaves.

Resistance Against Leadership and Authority

The resistance to inventing a new form of government and to using the offered opportunity to create, make and take up roles of leaders in the context of the current Cuban system raised a lot of anxiety. Authority and leadership appeared as not necessarily wanted. Roles seemed to be taken with no enthusiasm. As a result, the government appeared depressed and inconsistent up to the point where the youngest representative took up her leadership and decided to mobilize her authority and experience in a challenging and constructive way.
In recreating a dictatorial system within the workshop, participants seemed to express, at least initially, a strong push towards repetition and huge denial of the opportunity that was offered to them. They even created the most unrealistic system as if they wanted to demonstrate that no other way of government could exist. This was expressed by the predominance of women in the Government as well as among the anti-task leaders who tried to restore the traditional Cuban political system. In contrast, male participants were much more hidden and silent although this is contrast to the reality in Cuba where the role of men is dominant particularly in politics.
In the last plenary event, the Sesión de Discernimiento (the Session of Discernment), participants were asked to propose collectively a word that expressed their state of mind at this point in the workshop. The word chosen was reto, which means challenge. It is a word that testifies to the transformation that happened during the workshop. Helped by the clarification, hypotheses and interpretations made during the various reflection sessions, the participants’ state of mind moved from resistance, anxiety, uncertainty and doubt to a clearer space where the issue of race relations could be, at least partly, uncovered, examined and worked out. The future was seen as a challenge but practical working plans emerged, including the creation of a webpage called RETOS where participants recorded and will continue to update their experiences.

The pantheon of distinguished women

Five women emerged to carry determining roles for the course of the workshop. Did they represent the five main archetypes of Cuban women in power and/or authority? Or did they express five facets of the same imaginary character?
The first one was the only white person among the four female members of the government. Being associated as a “white Queen with her black slaves”, and alternating attitudes of arrogance and sulkiness, she could represent the traditional power of women, and particularly of white women.
The second woman was the very black dictator imposing power, and being finally excluded.
The third was the black President of the government, who was able to express her desire, but who finally entered into a “depression” from which she had much difficulty in escaping.
Gisela Arandia was the fourth. With her unwavering good will, as a black good mother who actually gave birth to the workshop, she assumed the role of go-between in mediating several conflicts, to the point of risking losing her own authority. Only her strong and deep desire to learn and to discover, but also to help the others’ learning and discoveries, prevented her from falling. In fact, it enabled her to continue her quest for social transformation.
The fifth woman was Gisela Morales, the daughter of the Gisela Arandia. Carrying the mixing of races and colours, she finally proved able to take authority for herself and for the system, through many zig-zags and periods of rejection. Then, too, she was able to lead the system in the direction of discoveries and learning.
How significant is this series of women? It is as if the attempts made by white or black women “failed” one after the other, laying the ground for the success of the last one, who was concretely carrying the métissage.

The Director as the Gate to the Unconscious

During the last Sistema Diversidad, (Diversity System) the Director felt a very potent push to be paired with the youngest black member of the Government. This inspired in him a deep intuition that led him to ask the participants who had a partner, husband or wife, of the ‘opposite’ colour. The answer was very significant. Only the three remaining participants of the government could match the criteria! This opened up a set of interpretations about the unconscious conditions that prompted the taking up of leadership. Out of thirty-five participants who knew little or nothing about each other, they unconsciously ‘chose’ only those who had an official companion of the other race for the government that would try to transform racial difficulties and prejudice.
But it also raises some new questions about the nature of the role of Director in this kind of workshop or working conference. The very difficult conditions surrounding this workshop, reproducing daily life in Cuba, as well as the constant presence of Cuban sensuality and creativity, led the staff, and particularly the Director, to use resources that are not often used in other circumstances. The rational and conscious levels were constrained and constraining, pushing the Director and staff in a more intuitive direction.
Maybe the first condition necessary is the capacity to consider the unconscious as the most beautiful and powerful available resource with which to foresee, understand and act. This path is a zigzag, never a straight line. A zigzag expresses the complexity, the difficulty of the process, the uncertainty, which can submerge things, the alternation between progression and regression, the required doubt and faith connected with succeeding.
Thus, the second condition is the capacity for staff members, and particularly the Director, to let themselves be invaded by the unconscious, invaded like a fortress made by his or her own resistances. The Director offers him or herself to the unconscious production of the institutional system but he or she can only do it by working on, and constantly weakening his or her own resistances.
We could even say that such a workshop or a working conference can be seen as a competition between the emergence of the resistances among participants and the work on inner resistances made by each staff member and particularly the Director.
Through this work, the Director obtains ‘access’ to the unconscious. He or she becomes the gate to the unconscious – or, maybe, only the porter at this gate. But then, he or she can help other staff participants, followed by the membership, to enter, to gain direct access not only to the institutional unconscious of the conference, but also to what it means for each of them, as a living part of the system, exercising a role. At the same time, the unconscious ‘invades’ the conference and its participants. The path of transformation results from the interaction of all these forces thanks to the processes of containment and pulsation. The aim is not to create a Director who expresses working hypotheses as the Pythia stated oracles in Delphi. Instead, it is to lead a path, followed by both staff members and the membership, so that each can discover how to learn from experience, including about unconscious processes.

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How to explore Black and White in Colours?

Many questions remain open after this experience. For instance, what is the capacity of any political system to erase such unconscious processes as racial discrimination and prejudice through the rational and voluntary promotion of equality? This kind of question is not limited to the specific case of Cuba. It concerns any political action. What happens when political action is limited to rationality and denies the historical and unconscious roots of the issues that it proposes to improve? How can political action avoid being limited to superficial changes and engage in real transformations/ transformaCtions? After fifty years of the Castro system, the racial problem remains at the centre of Cuban society. Black and mixed parentage people seem to be the most eager, despite ambivalence, to explore it and to transform it. White people, and above all white men, seem to be the most resistant.
The workshop was a lead cast, even a thunderbolt which was able to enlighten and cleave through the current stratifications. The process of revelation, of revelaCtion, however painful, may have been the only way to avoid being an inmate of a present prison determining the future. The sudden appearance of the unconscious may be the most efficient element for shaking and questioning the SIMs . The impact of the unconscious, struggling against the hold of the past on the present, brings surprise, joy and liberation not only in the psychic and spiritual dimensions but also politically.
When one finds the capacity to give space to unconscious forces, to express them without being too afraid, they free the future. To live this process in a managed and contained way is an opportunity to avoid repeating the past. The relationship between conscious and unconscious cannot be seen in black and white: it is a permanent back and forth between both which focuses at certain times on the conscious root and at others on the unconscious root. In this way, this workshop worked on democracy: the liberty to think, to feel and to act.

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The Workshop Programme

The Paths of Authority

Friday, April 17, 2009 13:01

The Paths of Authority : from the Unconscious to the Transcendental…
Intervention at the Arab University of Jerusalem.

“Nothing can be taught to others. They can only be helped in their discovery”. Galileo

Since the School of Human Relations, numerous studies have refered to Organizational Development as an approach in the understanding of men and systems to which they belong. However, as consultants at Praxis International and at the International Forum for Social Innovation, our activity is closer to an approach of organizations in terms of Institutional Transformation (I.T.) than Organizational Development (O.D.).

Institutional Transformation differs from Organizational Development in the sense that its goal is to take into account the unconscious and its expression, whenever possible. As consultants, we try to detect or interpret the unconscious processes in institutions. In this perspective, consultants focus their attention on the exercise of authority, leadership and transformation within the institutions.

Our pratice as consultants in Praxis International (through our activity as Advisers in Leadership) and in the International Forum for Social Innovation (through the organization of “learning from experience” conferences) is centered on a principle : the revealed unconscious, when worked out, can be a resource which opens and transforms blocked situations. To illustrate this, we would like to recall our last conference in East Jerusalem.

The International Forum for Social Innovation (Paris, France), together with Al-Quds University (the Arab University of East Jerusalem), devised, prepared and organized and under the authority of David Gutmann, the first international Palestinian conference entitled “Leadership, Innovation and Transformation”. This conference took place in one of the schools of Al-Quds University from the 14th to the 19th of July 1996.

In the complex and moving context of the Middle-East, questions concerning boundaries, identities and relationship are at the core of the life of each individual and each social group’s life. Surely, the conference would “resonate” with its environment…

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The Methodology.

We will briefly describe the content of conferences such as “Leadership, Innovation and Transformation”.
In the first place, the conference is an institution, just like a firm, an association or a football team ; with the difference that it is clearly defined within time limits, that is, it is temporary. In the second place, it is a learning from experience institution ; the learning method is centered on exploration and interpretation of experience while it is happening, in the here and now, by the participants of the conference.

On the experiential field of the conference, participants go through situations they have met within the organizations they usually belong to, in which they must exercise their authority and leadership as well as their capacities of innovation and transformation.
Thus, they can work out the political, unconscious and spiritual material which constitutes the essence of institutions, and better understand what is at stake in an intellectual or even affective way.

Reveal the Unconscious in order to Transform the Conscious.

During these conferences, the consultants are particularly aware of the political dimension (what is at stake in terms of balance of power, rules, behaviors,…), the unconscious dimension (each person’s mental image of the institution, marked by his or her fantasy about others, power, institutions,…) and the spiritual dimension (the belief or faith in the institution, which has something to do with the transcendental) of the temporary institution. The issue is to reveal some of the individual or collective barriers which limit social innovation.

Besides management (which includes conference administration), the conference’s staff members, besides intervene as consultants during the sessions. While it is taking place, the consultants set up working hypotheses concerning the political, the unconscious or the spiritual material which is at work. Often, such working hypotheses are focused on psychological blocks, resistances, fears they have observed in the group.

One of the basic assumptions in these conferences is that the collective revelation and expression of resistances is a way of transforming the institution. Therefore, to discuss and debate about these resistances is a way to work them out, to go beyond them, and transform them.

Respect the Boundaries in order to Transform them into Resources.

A strict principle on which are based these conferences is the respect for space, time and task boundaries. That involves a strict schedule : each conference offers a frame where boundaries are continuously clarified and serve as a support for the interpretation of actual experiences. During the conference, several types of sessions are set up (Large Study Groups, Small Study Groups,…) according to a strictly defined schedule.

These groups can deal either with the limits worked out during the conference, or the limits separating individuals and systems, social groups and territorial entities. The two may be similar. In terms of transformation, it is necessary that “barricades”, which are impermeable, become “barriers, borders, boundaries”, which can be progressively more permeable. Institutional transformation might be: moving from a closed conception of the limit (“the barricade”) to a more open conception (“the boundary”). It carries the idea that a boundary marks both a rupture and a passage; without boundary, there is no differentiation, but also no transaction.

The words “boundaries” (which contains “bind”, the link), “borders”, “barriers”, “barricades” form a progression expressing from one word to another a growing demarcation. In terms of transformation, it is necessary that “barricades” become “barriers, borders, boundaries”.

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A Conference in East Jerusalem.

The conference at Al-Quds University in July 1996 took place in East Jerusalem —a city which stands for a symbol of all religious conflicts in the Middle-East— while relations between Israelis and Palestinians had suddenly worsened (Rabin’s assassination in 1995, the election of a pro-Likud Governement in Spring 1996).

The main issue for the participants was to understand their place in the transition process from an Israeli authority to a Palestinian Authority.

The conference was meant to help members understand the transformations that should accompany the recent political evolutions in the Middle-East.

Tasks such as instituting borders, creating territories, building up a democracy, building roads, cities, and moving populations are important. But it raises fears, anxiety and obvious resistances. Such transformations request an evolution in habits, mentalities, which was the main issue of the conference.

Of the 36 participants (the maximum allowed), 28 were Palestinians (one of them originally European), 6 were Israelis (three Jews and three Arabs — two Muslims and one Christian) and two other Europeans (aFrench and a Belgian). The staff was composed of 8 members of different nationalities, religions and culture. Members came from the Palestinian Authority, from the United States, from France, from India, and from Israel. Along with Islam, almost all Judeo-Christian religions were represented. The director was a Jewish European (French).

It is difficult to recount the actual rich content of the conference. However, some situations deserve description, as well as the main working hypotheses presented by the consultants.

During one of the first events of the conference, for example (the Small Study Group), the group elected a chairman ; someone who would moderate the discussion. The consultant noticed that the person chosen was the only Jewish Israeli in the group (which was composed of Palestinians, except the consultant). The consultant was surprised. Was this situation a sign that for Palestinians, imagining themselves in a role other than dominated by Israelis was difficult ? Recounted here, this interpretation seems extensive. But in the here and now, to formulate publicly the working hypothesis is a way to give birth to a debate, sometimes rough —or, on the contrary, to generate encounters. In the best cases, such a pratice can reveal habits, prejudices, defensive attitudes, fears, anguish,… All elements that can inhibit the individual in his relationship with others, and which are resistances in the social innovation process.

The Impossible Transaction.

Another situation met during the conference enabled the consultants to put forward an important working hypothesis and therefore begin to understand what was at stake in the here and now. The interpretation was based on the following observation : the staff had great difficulties in persuading the participants to respect the conference’s time, space and task boundaries.

The external borders were acutely present in this conference since numerous Palestinians (in addition to the actual thirty six participants) had been forbidden to enter Jerusalem and couldn’t participate in the conference ; others were stopped at the border (the “green line”) and could not meet in Jerusalem.

During the conference, the staff was confronted with a high number of people being absent or late. Some participants left the conference at the very beginning, never coming back or coming back a few days later. Other participants attended only a few sessions. Other participants came late to the events.

Another type of border was defined in relation to the primary task of the institution. For example, a woman came one day with her child : it was difficult for the staff to make clear to the members, individually or collectively, that she had forced a border.

Thus, the staff noticed on several occasions that it was difficult for the members to respect the limits of space, time and task of the conference. The consultants presented a working hypothesis : the resistance to the respect of limits (borders) is the expression of a larger resistance to the respect of borders in the Middle-East.

The consultants used the following observation : the border as a limit or a separation has been is contested since the creation of Israel. An agreement on this matter between Israelis and Palestinians seems impossible, on a political point of view, but also on an unconscious point of view. The refusal or repression of the border as a limit were perceptible at numerous moments during the conference.

Can this type of hypothesis be accurate ? One can obviously suggest as an explanation to absenteism or lateness, the cultural background of the Middle-East. However, one must keep in mind that such working hypotheses are put forward in the here and now (when situations are occurring) and that a public discussion about them can begin, bringing up other elements to work on, and so on. Progressively, by means of successive interpretations, we can hope that some “hidden elements”1 of the institution will be revealed. Afterwards, the work of the staff can be analysed in this way : it was interesting to work on the notion of “borders” since it is a conflictual issue in the Middle-East.

The most striking revelation was the difficulty for the participants to acknowledge the border as a place of transaction, of exchange, of commerce. One situation enabled to reveal this point : the two Palestinians of the staff (the administrators) were questioned by the members. This questioning was very strong since members came to the two administrators and asked them why they accepted to “serve” such a staff, composed of individuals coming from primitive people. For a better understanding of this example, let us recall that one of the consultants of the staff was an Afro-American and another, an Indian. Also, in all our conferences, just as in all institutions (firms for example), the administrator’s role is quite unrewarding : he or she is often considered as a servant. Thus the two Palestinian administrators were seen as servants of the other staff members, who were largely Western.

The participants’ projections on the staff gave rise to the following working hypothesis : the staff was perceived as a strongly hierarchical group (director, consultants, administrators), as if a common project were unthinkable, whereas the work of the staff, composed of different nationalities, cultures and religions, was to be understood as the result of cooperation. We (the International Forum for Social Innovation) believe that the primary task of an institution can only be fulfilled if each person carries out his or her role. Ideally, “managers/managed” relations have to be structured in view of the institution’s primary task and cannot be reduced to hierarchical links.

In the temporary learning institution of the conference, one of the working hypotheses put forward by the consultants was that the Palestinian members were reluctant to accept any cooperation other than between themselves, as if Palestinians could only count on themselves. To take on the idea of boundary, it appeared to the staff that differences of nationality or religion were uncrossable borders (“barricades” or “barriers”) for the Palestinians. But a boundary is also a place of transaction, and possibly cooperation (between countries, for example). This transaction is both a link (since a transaction links two systems together) and a form of communication by exchange. It is probably the reason why it is so difficult to accept.

René Girard wrote Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde (literally, “About Things Hidden Since the Origins of the World”), in which he defends the idea that the “scapegoat” phenomenon is constant and universal, in human groups. In our sense, the “hidden elements” are the constant (anthropological) elements of all institutions. They are hidden to those who don’t want to see them.

A “Prison in the Mind”.

The observation of the identity games in the conference (and in its environment) revealed an image of two societies coming face to face in a mirror-like situation. Let us develop this working hypothesis…

On both sides, everything was happening in a mental state which fueled a mutual exclusion. This mental state was structured by a closed representation of oneself and of the society one belonged to. The image which came to us was confinement. Each person, whether Israeli or Palestinian, confronted the other with a confined mood. On the Palestinian side, it was a “Prison in the Mind” ; on the Israeli side, it was a “Ghetto in the mind”.

The working hypothesis, called “Prison in the Mind”, was formulated by the staff during the conference while trying to understand the behavior of participants who had been in the Israeli prisons for a long time. These participants lived as if they were constantly constrained by hostile authorities (embodied by the staff or other participants). Were they not acting as if prison remained within them ?

It appeared to us that the “Prison in the Mind” could be a good metaphor for the unconscious representation of life for the Palestinians : in general, prison is a closed place, where existence is organized around one sex, as if only part of life were possible. In Palestine, the “Prison” exists because of the curfew, the temporary closing of territories, the walls and the barbed wire, all elements which achieve the confinement of a people in the Palestinians’ daily life. Observing what was happening during the conference, the staff thought that Palestinians had a “Prison in the Mind”.

Afterwards it appeared to us that, confronted with this representation, the Israelis opposed maybe another type of confinement : we called it the “Ghetto in the Mind”, as if images from the Jewish people’s history confronted the Palestinians’. The Ghetto stands in a surviving dimension, as people desperatly try to stay alive.

Thus, each Middle-Eastern participant opposed the other, and him/herself, with a confined state of mind. These strongly internalized representations had to be worked out during the conference.

Let us note that these two types of confinement are not complementary. Somehow, they reproduce the political and human situation in the Middle-East, which was blocked until the Oslo agreements. These agreements initiated an actual transformation (a concrete, noticeable one). But transformation “in the mind” has been more uncertain, as showed by Rabin’s assassination : some are firmly opposed to the peace process, on the Jewish side as well as on the Arab side.

Once these representations revealed, how could the staff work them out ? How does one engage a transformation process ? How does one leave confinement ?
During the conference, the image of a tunnel appeared as a way out of a confinement. The participants worked on this image. How does one escape from a prison ? From the ghetto ? Can a tunnel be the answer ? The tunnel, just like the one in Jerusalem, was another cause of fight between Jews and Arabs in September 1996.

But the tunnel does not allow two parties to meet ; it is not a Forum, a place of discussion, of exchange; it is a “closed exit”. The tunnel places someone directly on the other side, on the adverse side… The tunnel is also a good metaphor for the inevitability of fate. The invocation of fate enables us to act without any responsability… without any authority.

The task of the staff was to detect these resistances (the “Images in the Mind”) and to reveal them in order to help the participants in taking their own authority, so as to become co-authors of one transformation.

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The Advent of a Secular Society.

It was not easy to organize this conference in East Jerusalem. The major difficulties were financial. A European sponsor (ElectricitÈ de France) agreed to fund Al-Quds University. Without ElectricitÈ de France’s help, it is likely that the conference would never have taken place. It did eventually… and under tough external conditions. Just after the May 1996 elections in Israel, which brought to power a Governement hostile to the Oslo agreements, tension suddenly rose in the territories as Israelis closed the borders. Some Palestinian members of the staff, from Bethleem to Ramalha, from Gaza to Jericho, were forced to give up their project of attending the conference due to the sealing of the territories. However, the maximum number of participants was eventually reached. This allowed us to overcome the most important obstacles.

During the conference, the staff’s role was challenged several times by the participants. It is true that this type of contestation is very common in the conferences organized by the International Forum of Social Innovation and is an expression of the anxiety felt by the members. Anxiety is caused by the perspective of having to deal with the unknown, such as confronting other people first and, later, learning authority. This sort of challenge is used as a medium through which working hypotheses are expressed by the consultants.

During the Al-Quds University conference, the staff was once severely challenged by the participants. Two Palestinians, who had attended the first session on the first day, came back on the fourth day during the “Institutional Event”2 and violently expressed their opposition to the staff. In doing so, they took the lead in an internal challenging movement. Their intervention shook up the other members who had been attending all the sessions on a daily basis. They had worked together and created solidarity. What surprised the staff was the way the challenge was personified by two Palestinians (who were employees of the University), who had not participated in all the events. The two men joined two other male participants. These four men were sitting together as if they formed a physical “front”, thus breaking the initial circle of the room (an obvious association was made by the staff, recalling the “Islamic Front”). Going beyond this first observation, and remembering that the two men were actually chemists, the staff formulated the following working hypothesis : the two men came back in order to set a bomb in the temporary institution of the conference, in order to sabotage the current transformation process. This hypothesis was put forward and explored by the participants. Here again, the strong resonance between the conference’s incidents and what was happening (the attacks which preceded the Israeli elections of May 1996) was a great discovery. Thus, in formulating some working hypotheses (sometimes in a metaphoric way), we can help people to be conscious of what is really at stake in some situations.

The Institutional System Event sessions are designed to study the relations between members and staff who, in part, constitute the management of the Institutional System Event.

Women also played a great role in the conference’s evolution. Let us take the case of this young student wearing a veil. On the first day, she hesitated before sitting down and asked a porter to indicate where she could sit. At the very end of the conference, she sat directly in front of the staff. Moreover, right after the conference, she gave the director a set of drawings she had made, which were representing her different mental states throughout the past six days. In several of them, she had portrayed herself without a veil.

One could say that part of the resistances expressed during the conference were worked out and possibly transformed. The conference eventually ended, and a party followed. The event was described in several articles (with photographs) in the Palestinian press. Moreover, a meeting between the International Forum for Social Innovation and some officials of the University was organized during subsequent days. These talks led to a future conference each year in five years time.

In October 1996, this decision was reconsidered by the authorities of the University, who decided not to organize the conference in 1997. We were surprised and concerned. By December 1996, this refusal appeared to be less certain. Today, the situation seems to be not so hopeless. At the same moment, in Hebron, Israeli and Palestinian authorities made new (fragile) contacts… While surveying the political, unconscious and spriritual dimensions, this conference echoes its environnement.

The toughening of the political situation in the Middle-East was an important element in the decision not to organize the conference in 1997. But we feel that what was at stake was much stronger and deeper, and uneasy to name. When we examine all the valid reasons for this refusal, are they not secondary ? When we attempted to work on the reality of the Palestinian society, its highly hierarchised clan structures appeared. This type of relationship was probably strenghtened by the Israelo-Palestinian conflict. However, we pointed out the Palestinians’ difficulties to locate and respect borders, as well as dealing with authority. The conference enabled the participants to explore the possibility of a “secular” society (in its etymological sense : “common”), the society of persons, men and women in equality. Such a society contrasts with the actual “theocratic” society which seems to be the reality of the Palestinian society, and is growing in Israel…

A Quest of the West ?

This working hypothesis —the emergence of a secular society— was formulated six months after the conference, when some French members of the staff met (including the director). It enabled us to think about the meaning of our coming to Jerusalem. It is obvious that the idea of an emerging secular society appeals to us, for as Europeans we inherited the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment…

What was the staff searching for by coming to East Jerusalem ? This coming is probably an expression of our fascination with Jerusalem, as Europeans. Jerusalem is a sacred land we would like to see secular. We would like to see a land where religious passions are pacified and… transformed. This place is a symbol of universal identity conflicts. It appeared to us as a privileged location for such a conference. In a way, we were there legitimizing our experience of conferences…. So when this experience is evoked, our excitement is still vivid and easy to understand.

Somehow, this conference symbolizes a meeting between the West and the East. With the heritage of the Age of Enlightement and methods born with the psychoanalytic movement (whose inventor was an Viennese Jew), have we not planned to reconquer a sacred land, just like we did with the Crusades, afew hundred years ago ? Western naÔvety ? If so, we accept the jugdment. We also want to recall that in these conferences, the staff comes also with its own preconceptions. The staff’s main task is to help the “pre-conceptions” become “pro-creation” within the temporary institution of the conference.

These questions show that one can make associations out of mere facts, images, fantasies. This progressively gives a meaning to some actions. This meaning is in no way the truth. But the sense elaborated in the Here and Now or afterwards can be a momentary “prerequisite” for the understanding of behaviors ; especially when there are “hidden elements”.

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Moreover, this conference enables us to say that working out the revealed part of the unconscious is the only way to fight against the traditional resistances —”Images in the Mind”.

We think that during the conference in East Jerusalem, each participant was able to understand the dependency hold institutions have over individuals. Thus, perhaps they will start assuming their own authority.

Concerning the unconscious, when we succeed in revealing part of it, we break off some walls… but the collective unconscious, as a meta-system, gets the upper hand, and this requires more work on resistances, which will result in another phase of progression and regression and so on…3 Acknowledging this perpetual cycle, we can use unconscious elements as resources in order to assist Institutional Transformation in Organizations.

Paris, December 1996.

See “The Transformation and Its ZigZags” in D. Gutmann, J. TernierDavid, C. Verrier, Groups and Transformation, Ubevidste Processer, Copenhague, february 1995.