Genuine Conversations: In Memory of Laura Chasin

Open letter to BFR members from the President, Abby Yanow
Several/many BFR members have taken workshops at the Public Conversations Project (PCP) over the years:  the Power of Dialogue, Facilitation skills, Inquiry as Intervention.   Some of us had the good fortune to have met or spent time with Laura Chasin, the co-founder of PCP, who passed away in Nov. 2015.  I’m so glad that I went to the memorial service last Saturday, to bear witness to the remarkable life and impact that Laura had, particularly through her work with PCP.  Some of the people who have been deeply involved with PCP are BFR members:  Maggie Herzig, co-founder;  Bob Stains, who gave a lovely tribute to Laura; and Phil McArthur, who served on an early advisory committee. 
PCP gained a reputation in the 1990s from dialogue work that brought together people across the divide of pro-choice and pro-life perspectives, which Laura spearheaded.  It is a tribute to Laura, mediator Susan Podziba, and PCP, that those dialogues generated meaningful conversations where people were able to speak their truth, and learn to listen and to really hear other’s perspectives.  As facilitators, we would be fortunate indeed to have that kind of impact.  You can read more here:

Connection to the BFR
The BFR shares a profound connection to PCP:   PCP used to host breakfasts where people discussed client cases, and 2000-2001 I attended 3 of those breakfasts; I even remember Ruth Bramson’s presentation!  I found it exciting that you could put people together in a circle, have them listen to someone present a case then discuss it from their own perspectives; what a concept!  I have used that experience to create some of our successful BFR programs.
The “Sound of the Genuine
Several speakers at the service recalled Laura’s love for the work of Howard Thurman, an African American theologian and civil rights leader, who wrote “The Sound of the Genuine”. I was moved by this paragraph about perspective-taking from Thurman, that Bob Stains quoted in the service: 
There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself.  Now if I hear the sound of the genuine in me, and if you hear the sound of the genuine in you, it is possible for me to go down in me and come up in you. So that when I look at myself through your eyes, having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.
How wonderful that Laura, Bob and PCP created, and were given, so many opportunities to create a forum for people’s genuine selves to emerge.  As facilitators, we try to create a container for people to bring their genuine selves to conversations, and to create understanding and even compassion.  We may not always work with the degree of conflict that PCP does, but I think many of us work along a continuum of extreme to mild conflict, and I th ink of it as a gift when I/we get to facilitate in that space.

Laura’s legacy
As I was sitting there reflecting on Laura’s legacy, these are some of the questions that came to mind:
  • Am I doing all that I kind do with my gifts of facilitation and conflict resolution?  
  • Are we (am I) applying our gifts of facilitation in conversations that allow people to surface and share their genuine selves?  
  • Are we among the lucky ones who can say that we are creating conversational space where people can heal?
I know that I have felt fortunate when I’ve facilitated a meeting where people have shared their genuine selves, and I imagine you share that feeling.
We - you, BFR members - have the gifts of facilitation and convening, and I believe that Laura’s legacy can/will live on with us, even in a small way.