“Is it too late to say I AM NOT SORRY?!”

Reflections on a non-exhaustive list of apologies while facilitating online spaces

In our last Facilitator’s Collective meeting Subu raised an important question — how can we as facilitators BE ourselves and find ways to remain open to changes in a workshop?

This question led me to another one — what does it even mean to ‘be myself’ as a facilitator? That too right now when workshop walls have collapsed into workshop screens? My personal space — a room where I used to relax after long hours of standing and engaging with participants — is now suddenly transformed into that very same interactive space. When online sessions are over, it takes me a few seconds to readjust to my room that was only a few seconds ago filled with the voices of so many people and so many homes. Suddenly with a click of a button, that chatter and energy is dissipated into thin air (or as I like to imagine — into the wires of my laptop charger).The gradual easing out of a workshop, the small talk, the ritualistic gathering of flipcharts, markers, props, speakers and scarves is replaced by my cursor hovering over a red ‘End this Meeting’ button.

This blurring of intimate and interactive spaces has also brought to my awareness a peculiar habit of mine. This habit was very apparent when one day my laptop lost its charge in the middle of a session and I began profusely apologizing…to a blank screen.

When I shared this discovery at the Facilitator’s Collective, I realized I wasn’t alone. Infact, many of us even began our meetings by apologizing for things beyond our control!

So, just for fun, I began curating a non-exhaustive list of items I had apologized for during online workshops. Each time I caught myself saying “I am so sorry for….” “Please excuse me for…” or a version of the same I jotted it down and the collective added to it. So here goes from Sanyukta, Akhila, Mudita, Devika and Subu:

“Sorry…

  1. my net is slow
  2. my dog is barking
  3. I need to get the door
  4. l need to make dinner
  5. my microphone isn’t working
  6. my headphone wires are entangled
  7. I can’t figure out the zoom features
  8. my partner just walked in
  9. the traffic outside is loud
  10. electricity issues! Sorry my face is not better lit!
  11. I need to drink water
  12. I need to go to the bathroom
  13. I got an urgent call in the middle
  14. my fan is too fast
  15. there is construction happening outside
  16. my stomach is grumbling
  17. I will need to eat during the session
  18. I am too energetic right now
  19. I am too sensitive right now
  20. I am too tired and exhausted right now
  21. my cats are being talkative
  22. the sun is shifting bringing a shadow to my face
  23. I am late I was on a call
  24. I am early I was in the Waiting Room
  25. for the posters in my background
  26. I am taking time to type
  27. I can’t hear you. Everyone is talking at the same time
  28. for talking too much
  29. for not talking enough

Why do we, almost automatically, begin our sentences with an apology? Is it because we have become so accustomed to saying ‘sorry’ that we don’t even question it? Or maybe it’s because we are hiding how we are feeling? Are we embarrassed of appearing a certain way? Are we conscious of what our participants might think about us? Are we worried we are wasting their time? Or is this our way of claiming power — by apologizing for things before others point it out for us? Or are we scared? Scared of appearing too confident? Or too dishevelled? Who are we scared of? Ourselves? Our participants? Our jobs? Our computers? Our pets? The pandemic?

Maybe the answers are a combination of all of the above, but these spiraling questions led me to another thought — if I am aware that I have this voice of apology, how do I tune it down?

I conducted a short exercise to explore this idea with the collective. We all closed our eyes and envisioned a workshop space where each of us felt like we were completely in our element. We pictured those surroundings, the people who were there and those who were not.

We then filled our drawing sheets with scribbles of feelings that were coming up — comfort, confidence, co-creation, connection, oneness, flow and ease being a few. Examples of some drawings are below:

Inspired by these images, we drew another image with details of that space, the people and the dialogues. We then placed ourselves in our own drawings.

As we sat in silence colouring in the details of a world that we very clearly were not living right now, the reality of our current context dawned on me. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a ‘facilitator’ is ​a person who helps somebody do something more easily. The world is not easy right now. The spaces that we are each facilitating — be it with children, with young adults, with older adults, are not easy. In that context, of course, these voices of apology are playing out. But does apologizing for that messy world make this facilitation process easier? Where does ‘ease’ come from?

As we shared our drawings I asked the collective if it was possible to bring some of the ‘ease’ emerging from our drawings into our current spaces. Not just with our participants but also with ourselves. Our zoom screens might not look like the open-air amphitheatres where we feel comfortable facilitating, but can we ground our bodies in the confidence that those spaces offer us? Is it possible to “be” present in that state even when the computer dies, when the wifi crashes and the cat stomps across the keyboard? Oh and not apologize for any of those things?

Paolo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author that Subu also mentioned in her last blog post, talks about the importance of reflection and action for a pedagog in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While I feel it is important to constantly reflect on our roles as facilitators, I am realizing the importance of reflecting on things I can control — like my being — rather than those that I cannot. The blurring of private and public spaces (read: screens) has made this delineation challenging, but all the more important so I can act accordingly — with forgiveness towards myself, my participants and to the world. What does this forgiveness look like? Hard to say, but right now it’s looking to me like a shorter apology list.

Akhila is an applied theatre practitioner from Delhi. With a passion for playing a game whenever possible, she designs and facilitates theatre-based interventions for corporates, government bodies, non-profits, schools and universities in India and the U.S. Akhila’s practice — which she blogs about like a mad person — stems from her training in the Theatre of the Oppressed methodology.

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