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Grace Boda's Talk

meerajay's picture

Grace Boda Guest Speaker

Work focused on individuals in high stakes and roles around how to make conflict not be destructive and be generative instead.

collaboration, participatory planning, facilitating high stakes convo, transforming dynamics, empowering leaders

A big agenda of hopefulness can meet up against serious challenges, like difficulty, harm, fear, distress/

Those of us who work with and for change are going to be able to bounce ideas off of her

integrating adult development with a concern for social change

GB: 2/3 of what I do is "the organizations I work with are working with complex social issues"

“poverty, sexual assault, community trauma, etc”

They are complex problems, while not technically complicated (require us to change as we engage with them) - WICKED problems

Who are we as human beings changing and evolving over time, and how do we respond to larger issues

WICKED problems - they entice us to evolve

1/3 of what I do is working with individuals at the edge of their capacity to make meaning of how they respond, could be many things

adult development is not horizontal growth (not gaining skills or facts)

development is more of a vertical process that allows us to come from a larger perspective to make more sense of what we perceive with complexity and nuance. evolving ourselves is just as important as gaining skills

At advanced stages of development we are able to self-author our experiences. this is different from changing our own experiences. It is largely about making meaning, how I understand the conditions I am in. Gives more freedom and empowerment to want to change own circumstances. For the people subjected to a system who have attained greater levels of complexity in development would feel more enabled to create change. 

What social conditions promote development and which inhibit it?

The typical provoker of one level of development to another is applied by society itself, the urge we feel to belong. society civilizes us, socialized us to be a part of a larger group. One can wonder why groups in society who have been harmed and marginalized want to feel like they belong. There is no evidence that there are differences in the numbers of people who progress developmentally across ethnicity or class; but it’s provoked by experiences.

Trauma, and racism as a chronic enduring experience of trauma can have EITHER effect. in some can be a deterrent of development and in others it can catapult them.

Why in some people does trauma hold some people back and catapult others forward??? Complex question. (resiliency factors, etc) It’s unknown.

We engage with mindfulness on different levels depending on development levels. Goes from the physical concrete kind of calming into inner, immeasurable experiences like thinking/daydreaming/fantasizing. Expert through strategist, people talk about calming the mind…after that, people begin to have enough presence and perception that they can be aware of more subtle experiences with other people and interactions. it sounds more spiritual and trans personal up to a certain level. Beyond that it becomes even more refined. 

Bringing mindfulness into schools with high degrees of community violence. They know when something bad happens to institute a calming practice. They know that’s what they need and implement it.

It’s been successful in a racially diverse, impoverished area.It’s a joining rather than someone showing up to teach something. The same thing taught across communities……

 How does this model work w people who have intellectual disability that may not allow them to progress socially?

There is a certain amount of cognitive structure required to go beyond average development. You can be highly intelligent and not developed emotionally but cannot be the opposite, be of below avg intelligence and highly developed. How do we even determine what’s going on, though, especially with people who have autism?

“I believe that all human beings can develop, even though there is a hierarchy - more freedom becomes available to us at more complex levels, but we need people at all development levels to make humanity whole"

A person’s capacity to engage in art, etc makes a difference in their development. Taking more and more of we identify with and what we are blind to (because we swim in it) and making it an object. Being subject to something to making it an object, something we can make decisions about.

Environmental thing that provokes development: finding ourselves in circumstances that knock us off our equilibrium in some area we care about that puts is in interaction with another person. We are pushed to adapt in those cases. Larger issues demand that we be someone new in order to address the issues - we can’t just fix it with a good idea.

Alice: Can neurotypical people have the tools to say much about people who are neurodivergent? Can we imagine changing ourselves as neurotypicals in a way that does not clip out people who don’t see themselves in our mirror? The way disabilities work pushes the question more than anything else about who counts and whose way of being is fully attained and validated.

What I like about how spacious the adult development framework is that is does not define a normal. It’s more of an exploration of how meaning is being made. How do you engage interpretation in your own world?

With autism we have an explosion of people who are processing in ways we don’t understand. We are so dependent on consensus reality around language, which is not always shared with everyone. 

Gabby: in this capitalist society, a lot of our values contradict adult development. (Which is why people with high intelligent and low development can often be successful). How do we reconcile that/navigate a world that does not want us to develop in that way.

GB: Lot of dialogue in this community about what we as humanity need in order to interact with what’s in front of us, with what suffering we’ve created and exist. We need many steps beyond what we are. Our social structure is set up as rewarding individualism that rewards personal contribution. What’s going on in the world is requiring us to see ourselves as a whole and see the experiences in another. On average we lack that. The good news is that the suffering experienced is prompting a movement to seek the whole, but we are nowhere near what we need. 



alesnick's picture

Thank you very much, Meera, for these careful and copious notes!  I am hopeful for continuing conversation.

I will start with the piece I raised, and put it next to what Grace offered at the end when she said, "Yet what is going on is requiring us to see ourselves as a whole being."

So, can a stage theory contribute to our seeing ourselves as a whole being, or does not necessarily inhibit that seeing? To see ourselves as a whole being (I take it this means to see "ourselves" not as separate indiividuals but as part of a broader life form perhaps with animals, the rest of the ecosphere) maybe we need to look at how groups-in-contexts develop?  Could this be an interesting lens on placements?  And tie in with TJ's question about how differently positioned people can contribute to a system's evolution? How can a system be built to enable this?


a.path's picture

One thing Grace said, about the unsolved question regarding why it is that some people's trauma hold them back [from advancing in stages on the trajectory of adult development] while others' experience of trauma catapults them forward, struck me so much so that I could not pay attention to anything she said thereafter. That is to say, I listened, but my mind had already jumped on board the question, mostly because of the confidence and conviction with which she declared that nobody in the field had any answers. I want to mention but not prolong the observation that at this day and age it isn't so much a mystery that questions framed by binaries will evoke an exploration that more or less is guided by a theme of "well, it's a little bit of both... there's a spectrum... humans are more complex than an 'either-or' inquisitional formula can possibly encase," and other remarks of that sentiment that occasionally take away from the actual themes and topics of the conversation. So, having said that, I will admit that a day prior to our class with Grace Boda, I had been working on this question in fact in a framework involving two people, because I guess there is something of a binary worth adhering to when launching into an investigation of this type of question. My framing involves myself and my grandmother. She passed away a few years ago from Alzheimers, and the disease was advancing considerably during the time she lived with us; the capacity in which I got to know her was through the lens of her Alzheimers, which means she’d tell me stories about her childhood and people who were important to her. The first time she told me about the massacres, I must have been too young to register anything other than how horrific it must have been. Recently, I’ve felt the need to research what these massacres even were, as the events she described did not, in retrospect, come across as something which wouldn’t have been recorded as an important historical happening. Following a Google search of “massacres ukraine poland” led to websites and articles about the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. A brief summary of the massacres is that the Ukrainians in areas where both Polish and Ukrainian populations resided took part in an ethnic cleansing of all the Poles, most actively in rural and small-town regions. My grandmother, about 11 or 12 years of age, was on her way to visit her grandmother who lived out in a rural village when her best friend, a Ukrainian girl, urged her to do something else, to stay in the city, do something fun there. Luckily, my grandma was persuaded, and indeed stayed, while her family was being slaughtered. “My uncle, who was one hundred years old, was killed. One of my aunts was pregnant, and they sliced open her stomach and womb, then left her to bleed to death.” The images and stories she shared about that period of time have forever haunted me, and for most of my life knowing my grandma, I couldn’t consciously even bring myself to imagine what it must have done for her. This friend she had, whose older brother was one of the murderers himself, this friend that did not let herself be paralyzed by the horror of what was occurring and urgently and lovingly warned my grandmother to stay, not letting her panic show, but instead distract the both of them from events that were perhaps beyond their own comprehension* (and definitely beyond mine to this day) and keep each other safe. This friendship, as described to me by my grandmother regarding this time as well as other adventures in which the two partook, has always seemed to me one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve had the honor of hearing about, in a way that definitely takes precedence over constantly grappling with what the massacres must have been like, and yet I have come to believe that this traumatic event in my family history, among countless others, merits my interrogation. The question I framed to myself, I’ll admit, involves a lot of reduction and sterilization, but I suppose those are processes we must permit and allow ourselves for initial engagement with a question. My question is phrased along the lines of “Why is it that, from my perspective, my grandparents and parents seem (and have seemed) to operate in a relatively functional manner despite having lived through substantial historical, national, and cultural traumas (the massacres, WWII, communist rule, martial law, etc.) whereas I, not having personally in my lifetime experienced such poignant hardships, seem relentlessly disturbed, exhausted, over-consumed, and troubled by my own mind?” I’ve asked myself at various points, what is my trauma? but the question seemed unable to offer any interrogatory guidance or clues. It then occurred to me, that the Catholic Church plays and has played a highly different role for my parents and grandparents than it does for me. Could it be, I asked myself, that their unwavering faith and resolute trust and commitment in and to the institution of the Catholic Church has kept them from faltering irreversibly from a stable life trajectory, or at least appearing and presenting as mentally sound** individuals? Is it, perhaps, that not being given the opportunity to exclusively experience a trauma as an individual, while already inhabiting a community-based, can enable and allow the individual to progress and belong to the trajectory that is, regardless of traumatic disruptions, a societally normalized life progression? With the collective space that is religion, is it taken for granted that the healing and recovery will be ensured by, provided for, and provided by everyone involved? I wonder these things because the Catholic Church has been for me, as a queer person, as a musician, as a student, a most complex and conflicting space, so much so that I cannot find unadulterated comfort in Catholic spaces. I have inherited knowledge, both intellectual and genetically physical, of these traumas, yet I have not been afforded the same guarantee of safety and collective progress in a Catholic community. I know that this one presence is not the only answer to why I function and think differently as a result of my difficulties (and that generational differences, as well as the fact that the space I occupy is composed by my ancestors and family, are factors) but I think it is definitely the beginning of an exploration of the question Grace Boda framed, a question to which “nobody in the field has an answer” (possibly perhaps it isn’t even the right question to be asking) Regardless, it was rather curious to witness its asking while I myself have begun to do so as well, in the context of my life and the lives of my family.


* There is something remarkable about action taken in response to an actuality that is beyond one's comprehension. The gut feelings and instincts and impulses that work on adhering to the face-value of an event, responding in a manner which keeps the body safe, a self-protecting measure that works successfully because of how confidently the body tells the mind of how dangerous the situation is. It makes me wonder if this is a mechanism to which mindfulness could perhaps be a conflicting project. I will write and post separately about this potential conflict, as to not detract from the more central investigation in this comment)


** I don't know enough about Alzheimers, other than that it is partly genetic, to be able to incorporate that fact into what I mean by "mentally sound."

alesnick's picture

Parts of this rich post (for which thanks) reminds me of Shay's discussion of the communalization of grief and narrative as essential to healing from combat trauma. I wonder whether in your account religion organizes the communal witness so powerfully that it provides hedge and healing.  The friendship you write of also is so strong, also a wellspring?  The question: hold back or catapult -- may depend overly much on linearity as well as binary.  Hmmm.  But that no one has an answer isn't that bothersome to me :)