“Coming alongside”

At the 2010 Guiding Lights Weekend January 29-30, my group role-played engaging with someone who seems or is homeless. Cultivating a safe yet open mindset seemed especially useful for “coming alongside.” Suggestions:

  1. Sense and enjoy the life going on all around, and cultivate thankfulness for it. Doing this puts me in a mood of happily “saying yes” to the encounter.
  2. Remember personal boundaries and limits. I don’t give strangers cash, but I do offer to buy food. And I always stay in a public space. “How about I get  us some coffee at that cafe’ over there?”
  3. Detach from outcomes. I let go of any preconceptions of what will happen or should happen in the encounter. Beyond being with the other person in the moment, there’s no such thing as “success.”
  4. Imagine a safe, welcoming space to contain two people: I’ve already drawn a safe boundary circle around myself (see #2). Now I imagine drawing a loose, welcoming circle around me and the other person. Within it we can stand restfully, sit down on a nearby bench, go to a café, or walk along side by side. (Of course, the other guy may not want to engage, in which case I simply say goodbye.)
  5. Remember that one is a guest in the other person’s world. Accordingly, I treat the other with dignity and respect. I have no need or desire to change him or her; I want just to experience the moment together. Maybe only I will change.
  6. Stand “side by side” with the other person. Face-to-face companionship may feel uncomfortable to the other, slightly threatening, or too much like what police and bureaucrats do. Harborview Medical Center Mental Health Chaplain Craig Rennebohm teaches the importance of being “side by side.” Gentle eye contact is also important.
  7. Notice the life going on all around, and share observations as it feels natural to do so. Silence is golden, too.
  8. Cultivate a sense of wonder about the other person. Psychiatrist Alfred Margulies says, “A sense of wonder keeps us from behaving as if we have other people figured out.” It also keeps me from falling into pity, which will separate me from the other person. A sense of wonder doesn’t mean asking lots of questions. I accept what the other person has to offer, even if it’s silence.
  9. Listen and hear. My companion should feel that I value the words that are spoken as well as the speaker. Bill Block, Director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, helped me realize that I don’t have to agree (or necessarily even to believe) in order to hear. When I say “I hear you” even to things that are troubling or that call for action, this openness to the other does not commit me to act in any particular way.
  10. Cultivate a sense of mutuality. I help my companion feel that contact is important to me personally by inviting a later connection and offering a choice. “How about I buy us a cup of coffee next week? When and where would you like to meet?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: