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Make space for stories to be told and acknowledged

I believe that space creates possibilities that shape your reality, and I love how the following story illustrates this.


Mandela’s Maelstrom

Nelson Mandela received a bleak inheritance upon his release from Robben Island: a maelstrom of social tension. Rage, revenge and retribution roiled within victims. Guilt, denial and fear festered within perpetrators. Without swift and intelligent action, this whirlpool of hate and fear threatened to suck Mandela’s dreams of a new South Africa into the depths.

With the demand for retribution on one side and asylum on the other, justice seemed impossible. Yet Mandela knew justice was paramount. But not just any justice – restorative justice – the kind that rehabilitates both victims and perpetrators and makes future relationships possible.

To accomplish this mission, Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu designed a very unique space: a space in which people could freely voice their stories and feel seen and feel acknowledged for the first time. A space where a perpetrator looked into a human being’s eyes and for the first time, realized the pain he had inflicted. A space for truth and reconciliation conversations.

In this space designed to achieve both truth and reconciliation, the unthinkable became possible: victims found a way to forgive perpetrators. Perpetrators found a way to apologize for their wrongdoing.

Feeling seen and being acknowledged can heal you. Hearing someone’s pain and seeing them as a human for the first time, and then genuinely apologizing, can change you.

Not all involved experienced this, certainly, but enough did. Enough to shift:

  • blood-thirst to a willingness to listen
  • retribution to restoration
  • lies to truth
  • denial to acknowledgment

It wasn’t perfect - but it was unlike anything the world had ever seen.

Space and possibility shaped a new reality: a new nation.


How can you create space?

Are there fractures in your organization’s culture – fractures that run along the lines of racism, ageism or sexism? Ask yourself how you might create a space in which people can freely voice their stories and feel seen and acknowledged by others. The goal of those listening is not to sympathize, advise or psychoanalyze – it is simply to hold space for those telling their stories, then to acknowledge what they have heard.


Read more in the Create Space, Invite Possibility, Shape Reality series:

Create the possibility field to energize your work (and life)

Are you too impulsive? How to get more brain space for new possibilities

How to turn your luck around for the reality you want



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