My experience at Solutions Lab was unique to say the least. I walked into it not entirely sure what to expect, but what I found was nothing short of amazing. Working collaboratively with a group of people I had few interactions with beforehand was challenging but also an opportunity to learn about the passion and hard work of those in the London community. Being a part of a group who wants nothing more than to provide people with awareness and support was eye opening and has reinforced my decision to be a part of the nonprofit sector. Seeing all of these people come together to work on local issues was inspiring, and has reinvigorated me as I wade through the new opportunities I’m experiencing during my internship with Pillar Nonprofit Network. I felt there were many things I could address when reflecting on my experience at Solutions Lab, and landed on 3 core benefits I received during my time at the workshop.
The power of meditation and self-reflection was an important part of Solutions Lab. One of the activities even included being silent for 2 hours. Although I had no issue taking part in the activity, I noticed others struggled incredibly to stay silent and there were some who couldn’t complete the task. Silent meditation specifically offered me the opportunity to slow down, and sort through my thoughts. So often we are caught up in the millions of thoughts racing around our heads or the impossible to do lists we have to finish before the end of the short day, meaning we don’t leave much time to focus on individual tasks or to think of innovative new ways to solve problems. Throughout the different meditation activities, I was able to take a step back and be present in the moment without all the other constant worries buzzing in the background. Being present with those in my group was very important as we were all there to tackle the same issues collaboratively. With everyone in the group attempting to broaden their thought processes, it allowed us to experience other perspectives, which is important when we are looking for different or fresh ideas on how to solve problems like poverty or re-imagining education.
A second and maybe even more important point I learned during the Solutions Lab process was the different levels of listening we often take part in and how we can make snap judgements or brush off ideas without really hearing them. There are three different voices we often hear within ourselves that we must address before we can really listen to others. The voice of judgement, when we may have judged what others are doing or saying in terms of the topic in our group; the voice of cynicism, what will this workshop actually contribute to solving issues in the community and will these arts and crafts really solve problems; and the voice of fear, which for myself consisted of the fear of embarrassing myself in front of our group I hardly know and being afraid of no one accepting my ideas or of failing during the process. These different voices resonated with me because I can honestly say I experienced each one during the Solutions Lab workshop. It is always a challenge to admit to being judgemental or cynical but there is no change without honesty. Once I reflected about those voices and how they were affecting the way I listened to others, I was better able to listen in my group and contribute in a genuine way. Being comfortable and getting to know the other people in my group also helped a great deal, and I was able to openly hear what others had to say.
This takes us right into the last benefit I felt truly impacted by during the Solutions Lab process; being vulnerable and honest in a group setting. Being vulnerable was something I struggled with significantly because all the people sitting at my table and the organization they are a part of was very new to me. It came to a point where we had to share our own thoughts about a particular issue, and it was difficult because I was unsure of what people around me would say, or think, or if they would even listen to what I had to say. But because I had thought about listening from my own self-reflection, I recognized that if I am going to be accepting of what others are saying, I must trust that others will grant me the same amount of respect. Once I had tackled that quite difficult revelation, I realized that I had opened myself up to creating change, and with listening to others we were able to adapt all of our smaller ideas into a super idea that began the process of looking at sustainable solutions to problems we had been tackling. Being able to trust others and forcing yourself to be vulnerable in a group creates a safe space that grants a free flow of ideas while allowing the creative thinkers to collaborate with the traditional programmers. Although one of the most difficult tasks to take part in, vulnerability is a crucial component of the Solutions Lab process that I think some may not have been consciously thinking about. If one is not vulnerable to others in the group, we only scratch the surface of each other’s thoughts and ideas, and without the real heart that comes from deeper connection without fearing judgement or failure, we will only continue to band aid the issues we are looking to address in our community.
Through keeping an open mind with self-reflection, quieting the voices of judgement, fear and cynicism and being open, honest, and vulnerable, I made a leap within a group of people who are looking to create systemic social change in their community and a leap within myself who is hoping to be a part of that change.
Sarah Lehman is completing her internship with Pillar Nonprofit Network as part of her studies in the Not-for-Profit Management program at Western Continuing Studies.