Discovering the Big Picture One Interview at a Time (Spring 2017, week 4)

Over the last two weeks I’ve completed twenty interviews with Pasadena Waldorf School (PWS) internal stakeholders, including teachers, administrative staff, board members, parents, and building contractors. Going into this project, we thought this healing process and community conversation was needed for misunderstandings that had come about within the past year. However, there is always more to the story than meets the eyes. It is quickly becoming apparent that this is a very complex situation that extends far further in time and impact than just the last year or just a single building project. Instead, it is rooted in decisions made over a decade ago, furthered by both very constructive and toxic elements of their organizational culture, and exasperated by a perfect storm of largely unforeseeable circumstances. Every person I talk to has a piece of the puzzle and a unique vantage point on the situation, but virtually none seem to appreciate the bigger picture or be able to see the situation from the myriad of other perspectives involved.

I am reminded of the classic 6 vs. 9 metaphor we learned on our first day of Basic Mediation Training with Annie, Carrie, and Anita all the way  back in summer 2013. At PWS, some can only see the outcomes of the last year, both good and bad, and have no reference points to either the process that created those outcomes or the history that influenced their creation. Likewise, those closest to that process and most intimately connected with the history, cannot understand how the outcomes have not been better understood and appreciated. Everyone is frustrated because they cannot see what the other person is seeing in this situation. And unlike the 6 vs. 9 metaphor, there are far more than just two perspectives on this situation. In a vain attempt to map the conflict, I could identify no less than seven unique perspectives or “parties” in this situation.

Given these diverse and deeply rooted experiences, I actually think that I might be one of only two to three people who have had the vantage point of looking down and seeing all of the parts, and recognizing that, like in most conflicts, there are many simultaneous truths—that yes, it is both a 6 and a 9. Helping people to see these simultaneous truths—to understand history they may not have been a part of, to appreciate a process they were left out of, to empathize that the impacts of this situation did not match the intentions—this will be our mantle of responsibility when we facilitate their community conversation next week.