Creating Safe Spaces

Laura Chasin

Director of the Public Conversations Project, Watertown, Massachusetts

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

I've come to think about it as an analogy to healing in the body. My husband had a very bad accident to his leg in 1985. He was injured in a boating accident. He had cuts on his leg that were about an inch wide and a broken leg. They could cast it but they couldn't suture it. So I had the experience for about a month of watching that leg heal, and all there was to do was to create a sterile field and keep bad stuff out of it. To clean it regularly and to tend to the field. My husband's a doctor and he explained to me there's this process in the skin called granulitis, in which the cells are actually reaching out on either side of the wound, seeking they're like on the other side. I saw how without anybody doing anything to the wound, how that happened and gradually there was this healing. I really frankly take from this work that there is some analogy to what happens to the body and what happens in groups.

The role of the conflict resolvers is to create that safe enough field, and to have ground rules that structure out the toxin, that which would pollute it. So the trick is to know enough about how conversation goes to figure out what are the ground rules that will keep those speech patterns and the feelings that go with them out of the room. And to know what are the structures within the room, that's where the analogy gets more complicated, but I really believe that.

My role, is a very modest role. It's an architectural role. It's about designing an environment and providing resources for that environment so that and maybe bringing new ingredients like questions that we never thought to address before, to enrich that environment.