The Story of Gracious Space
Welcome to the Blog on Gracious Space!
In this space we will share latest thinking on Gracious Space and examples of how people are using it, experimenting with it, thinking differently about it and making it real in their lives and workplaces. We want to have fun with Gracious Space and welcome it more deeply into our day-to-day practices. Our hope is that in these spaces you will find inspiration, knowledge, courage and tools to pursue your own good work in the world.
To begin, we will share the genesis of Gracious Space. We are often asked how Gracious Space came to be. Because we love stories, and because we are well-trained by our friends at Jet City Improv in Seattle, we’re going to use their classic seven-line story telling format.
The Story of Gracious Space
Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, Dr. William J. Grace (Bill) founded the Center for Ethical Leadership. Bill believed that people were good, that they wanted to do the right thing and be ethical, and that ethical leadership could be learned. He believed we needed more ethical leaders who could work together on issues to advance the common good. The Center’s definition of ethical leadership is simple – knowing your core values and having the courage to live them in all parts of your life in service of the common good.
And every day, Bill and the Center staff created programs and events to nurture ethical leaders. They crafted programs for business, government, neighborhood, religious and youth leaders who shared a vision of a common good.
Until one day, Bill encountered his friend Jim Emrich, who used the term ‘gracious space’ at a conference where he wanted to create a sense of hospitality for his college students. Jim defined it as “a place where the stranger feels welcome,” and attributed the language to his friend Charlie Olsen. Bill latched onto the term as a critical and accessible door into the common good arena.
Because of this, Bill returned to the Center and told Pat Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development, about the new term. Pat, ever vigilant for cutting-edge leadership concepts that could advance the common good, got very excited. She and Bill assembled the Seven Steps to the Common Good, a framework to describe the pathway of a leader in service of the common good. The steps were:
1. Create Gracious Space
2. Gather Diverse People
3. Critique the Status Quo
4. Promote Ethical Leadership and Core Values
5. Promote Transformational Change and Systems Thinking
6. Foster Integrity and Moral Courage
7. Promote Hope
Bill and Pat translated this architecture into one of the Center’s most successful programs, the Citizen Leaders Institute. CLI was a nine-month program that brought together leaders from the business, government, education, human service, and religious sectors, all committed to furthering their ability to promote the common good. The Center used Gracious Space as a way to create norms for being together and to set a tone for open and honest exchange, where the ‘stranger’ would feel welcome.
Following the success of CLI, the Center offered stand-alone workshops on some of the core elements of the Seven Steps framework. We offered half-day classes on Ethical Leadership, Ethical Decision Making, Creating Gracious Space, Creating a Culture of Integrity, and Moral Courage.
And because of this, the curriculum supporting Gracious Space began to grow. The first element of spirit was derived from action research of leaders using Gracious Space, as well as Bill’s passion for the “spirit” of leadership. The element of setting became clear as we sought out physical spaces conducive to dialogue and learning. The term invite the stranger came from Jim Emrich and Parker Palmer (who said that a community is dependent upon our willingness to invite the stranger), and Pat coined the term learning in public as the culmination of the practice of Gracious Space for the purposes of learning together.
The Center started using Gracious Space all over the place: at the Confluence (an innovative program that increases community capacity to tackle complex social issues), in the Boeing executive leadership program, and as a foundation for the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change work.
CEL then embarked on the book-writing project. Gracious Space was originally intended as a chapter in a larger book on the Seven Steps of the Common Good, but was developed instead into the Gracious Space monograph. Pat, Bill and the staff used an iterative process of writing, then testing the curriculum with groups, getting feedback, then re-writing and testing again. This process was repeated for several years.
Until finally, the Center was ready to put all the ideas about Gracious Space down on paper, and the monograph was published in May of 2004. It has now sold over 7,500 copies. A second edition with a new section on how Gracious Space contributes to the common good will be printed by summer of 2010.
The rest of the story is unfolding now. You are part of it! Each person who reads the book, attends a training, teaches or facilitates or applies an aspect of Gracious Space, contributes to the evolution of Gracious Space. Stay tuned for more exciting plot developments and twists of fate as we continue to co-create gracious space.
The End. For now.