What Are You Willing to Risk for Community?

A Peterborough Dialogues participant makes a bold life change

Ben Wolfe

It was during the second session of the Peterborough Dialogues that Carlotta James knew she had to respond to the intensifying sense inside her that now was the time to make a courageous change in her life.

“I knew that there were certain truths in my life that I needed to face, one of them being my work,” says the relatively new resident of Peterborough — she moved here two years ago.

Despite having made Peterborough her home, Carlotta was still working in Toronto. She was commuting three days a week and had to be away from her young son for long periods of time.

“What Peterborough Dialogues really invoked was the idea of community and recreating community and figuring out what that meant. . . and what really hit home for me is that I wasn’t part of the community here,” Carlotta says.

In addition to being disturbed by her lack of connection to this place, Carlotta began to get energized about what’s already happening in Peterborough. A group asset-mapping exercise during the Peterborough Dialogues showed this area has an abundance of incredible people doing unique, inspiring, awesome stuff.

A snapshot of the asset map created by participants during the Peterborough Dialogues.

A snapshot of the asset map created by participants during the Peterborough Dialogues.

Then there was this yearning deep inside her that the dialogues also awoke. Carlotta started feeling she wanted to engage more in the kinds of conversations she was having in the Peterborough Dialogues — “more heart to heart, more truthful conversations that are based on mind, body and soul and what that means,” she says.

Though she loved her work as an Internet security specialist, which allowed her to use a variety of skills and create outcomes that meant a lot to her — enabling people in censored regions to access the Internet in a secure way — the lack of opportunity to have the more meaningful conversations in her workplace suddenly stood out painfully.

‘A Whole New Chapter of My Life is  Now Starting’

And then she participated in the third Peterborough Dialogues session. It centred on a question along the lines of, “What risks are you willing to take in order to create community?”

“And I thought, ‘This is my risk, leaving my job. . . and making something happen in Peterborough,” Carlotta says.

“This is my risk, leaving my job. . . and making something happen in Peterborough.”

As of last week she is officially jobless.

Though she cried when she told her employer, Carlotta says she now feels an exciting sense of possibility.

“A whole new chapter of my life is starting now and that chapter is starting right here in Peterborough.”

In keeping with a theme of the dialogues, which invites people to ask what gifts they bring that could enliven the community, Carlotta is focusing on a few local initiatives that align with her passions and gifts.

One called Yard by Yard stems from her love of gardening and intends to seed the possibilities for creating community through matching landowners with would-be gardeners. The gardeners use the landowners’ property to grow food and then eat it, share it — including with the landowners — and also hopefully make some income. That initiative is now launched, with a second phase about to be introduced that entails offering related workshops on topics such as foraging for food plants native to this area.

From Peterborough Dialogues to China Dialogues

Another initiative rises from Carlotta’s deep love for the country of China, which was first sparked by her work as an English teacher in a remote village in the province of Shandong in 2002.

Describing that as a life-changing experience, Carlotta went on to study international relations at the University of Toronto where she minored in Chinese politics and language. She has since returned to China several times, once for another English teaching stint and another time to help a Chinese resident start a new school. She also spent the summer of 2008 there on a scholarship for studying the language more in-depth.

Carlotta James and Lindsey Masser are partnering to launch a new dialogue initiative centred on China.

Carlotta James and Lindsey Masser are partnering to launch a new dialogue initiative centred on China.

The initiative that she and a close friend and fellow China enthusiast, Lindsey Masser, are launching centres on manifesting the richness of the Chinese “world” to people here in Peterborough.

“China is such an important country because of its political power, its economic power, its military power but also because it’s a nation that has such a long history as well as such a complicated culture and an interesting language,” Carlotta says.

She hopes to engage Peterborough residents in critical thought about what China means to them — “whether it’s the idea that it’s a bad communist country or a country that has really poor human rights issues,” for instance — as well as inspire them to learn more about the country’s gifts such as its beautiful language.

“China has been a love affair of mine for such a long time and I would love to see that grow in other places,” says Carlotta, who has started teaching her young son simplified Mandarin.

Inspired by the Peterborough Dialogues approach, Carlotta and Lindsey plan to host their sessions in a way that invites people to engage in meaningful conversations rather than adopting a straight lecture style.

“We want to make the sessions as interactive and fun as possible,” Carlotta says.

To learn more about these sessions, called China Dialogues, contact Carlotta at Carlotta.james(at)gmail.com.

The Peterborough Dialogues team has heard similar stories of profound shifts happening through participants’ engagement in the dialogues. We’d love to share those stories more widely. If you’re inclined that way too, please contact at ptbodialogues(at)axiomnews.com.

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