Peterborough: On the Path to Being a City that Listens

‘I think we’re in the midst of a big shift:’ Peter Pula

Illustration: Yvonne Hollandy

There’s an awful lot alive in terms of Peterborough being able to claim it’s a “city that listens,” a phrase coined by Mary Gordon from Seeds of Change in a recent dialogue on new possibilities for Peterborough. Among the energizing signs of this: the nature of this week’s job fair events hosted by Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef, the new Sidewalk Talks and the new-to-Peterborough Community Mediation programs, to name only a few.

“I think we’re in the midst of a big shift,” says Peter Pula, cofounder of the Peterborough Dialogues.

One way to think about this shift is that it’s a discovery or rediscovery of natural and/or sacred (sacred as in unique and connected) conversation, Peter says.

“The next step is never to convince people who don’t understand, but model to those who are ready.”
— Ben Wolfe

The more than 120 people who participated in the job fair gathering earlier this week had a taste of this kind of conversation as they participated in individual, three-person, whole-group and co-creative reflections and/or dialogues.

Peter says he was struck by how natural the experience felt. He suggests that Maryam’s presence — an open and invitational as opposed to closed and authoritative presence — set a context that made that possible.

Both the job fair events and other efforts of a similar approach and spirit are also setting a new tone for how change can be created — a tone that is clearly touching something deep in people. “It’s like something pent-up is being given release,” said a participant in a hosting circle gathering yesterday. (Once a week a community of practice hosting circle gathers at Peterborough Dialogues.)

There’s also a sense of touching on and being part of a larger awakening, something that goes beyond individual choices, said another.

People also described “a new sense of relief in shared responsibility.”

What’s At Work Beneath the Surface?

Conversation and dialogue are integral to the human experience, so what sets that which is occurring in Peterborough apart?

Some of this has to do with the power of intentionality and values over goals, plans and actions, suggested Bill Templeman, a Peterborough citizen who is active on a number of local political and community fronts.

The intention in this work centres largely on preparing the field or creating the space so that outcomes or transformation can occur as people discover their gifts and possible partners for the work to which they’re prepared to commit.

Sketch notes by Yvonne Hollandy. Click to see larger version.

Sketch notes by Yvonne Hollandy. Click to see larger version.

It’s important that these efforts bring together strangers and include a calling question, Peter says. Both are vital pieces for breaking off old stories and creating a container in which to thrive.

“The next step is never to convince people who don’t understand, but model to those who are ready,” said Ben Wolfe, co-creator of the Peterborough Dialogues, in the circle gathering.

What’s the Best That Could Happen?

As more of these dialogues take place in gathering halls and rooms around the city, the question of outcomes, already surfacing, is expected to grow louder.

Peter has a brief response ready for that question. “If all that happens is that the power shifts to being in the room, rather than above the room, it’s a marvellous and beautiful thing,” he says.

“That is a huge gift to community.”

Peterborough Dialogues will be offering Hosting Arts Training in February. Click here for more information.

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