Last month, I had the privilege of attending the Ontario Generous Space Retreat for the first time. It was also my first GS retreat as a member of the team since coming on in January as Co-Director of Community alongside Beth. It was an incredible (though demanding) time of connecting with and serving a cross-section of the Generous Space community.
As part of the retreat, I facilitated an Affinity Cafe for people who identified on the bisexual/pansexual/+ spectrum. I also co-led a workshop on bisexuality/pansexuality/+ where we explored some of what it means to live within that world. There was much conversation, great stories, and a lot of amazing commonalities shared in both gatherings. In the moment, I found myself deeply moved by how important it is to connect with people who were like me.
In contrast, while I loved connecting with people who came from very different and diverse experiences, those encounters were not the same. There was a sense of commonality, but in a broader, more general sense. And if I am honest, sometimes the differences stretched me, left me uncomfortable, even longing to get connect with my “bi tribe”. When I got home, I spent a lot of time reflecting on these experiences.
Without question, the importance and value of connecting with those people who share more in common with our experiences cannot be overstated. This is especially true for those whose intersecting identities make those connections especially rare. That is why GS hosts the affinity cafes and the creates the online affinity groups on Facebook. They are beautiful and invaluable.
However, I noticed in myself the temptation to camp out within those spaces. Without intentionality, I could have easily spent all my free time engaging with those friends who “got it” more than others. And, again, while there is great value in those connections, I would have missed out on the important dimensions and diversity of our larger community had I done so.
This is why the Generous Space core values are so important. Humility reminds us that the bigger truth cannot be grasped from a single perspective, so we chose to listen and learn from those who differ and even disagree with us. Hospitality reminds us to actively make room for voices other than our own, so we seek out the missing voices. Mutuality reminds us that our commitment to removing any barriers to empower contribution, so we divest ourselves of the necessity to prioritize our interests at all times. And justice minds us that our capacity for flourishing is caught up together- that “I am because you are” (Desmond Tutu)- so we work towards to restoration of the fullest expression of our diverse community. What each of these values has in common is the necessity for us to actively walk them out. They are not passive. They require intentionality and agency.
So, as we celebrate and connect with those who are like us, let us be careful that our celebrations of affinity don’t unintentionally lead to alienation. Let us also do the work of community to pursue, embrace, and celebrate the diversity that our wider community represents. Affinity is a wonderful and spontaneous gift for each of us to celebrate. Solidarity is an active commitment to mutual support. We need both because that is what it means to make generous space.