Contents this month
I grew up in my gap year, 1973-4. It was not the carefully packaged
sort of gap year that our teenagers seem to have these days: I
was given a one-way ticket to New Zealand and told to be back in
time to go to university.
One of my strongest memories is driving along the coast road
north of Wellington near the little town of Paraparaumu - not
the sort of name you forget - when, high in the sky there
appeared a series of brightly coloured triangles with people
dangling from them. It was the first time that I, and to judge
from the traffic jam beneath, most Kiwis, had ever seen a hang
That longing to fly like a bird has stayed with me and last
week I finally had my own opportunity to do it on a paragliding
course in France. It was not a total success: the weather was
disappointing and lingering flu left me unsure, even when I was
on the ground, of which way was up. But it scratched that ancient
itch and it also, during the pauses between flights, offered
a potent metaphor for some of the work we do.
The week before Dialogue by Design facilitated a sensitive
meeting to identify some ways ahead in one of the world’s
trouble spots. Standing on the hillside in France waiting to
launch myself into the air reminded me very vividly of how it
felt going into that meeting.
But the reasons the meeting went well were the same as the reasons
I didn’t break my neck last week. First, meticulous preparation:
making sure there were no holes in the wing and the control lines
were not frayed was very similar to doing the background research
and making sure we understood the role and background of every
Then there was the careful checking of the windsock and watching
out for the sudden thermals that swirled up the valley; that
equated to keeping a close eye on current events and being prepared
to adjust immediately to changes in the circumstances.
However careful the preparation, though, there is a moment when
suddenly the ground retreats and staying safely aloft means paying
attention and doing the right thing quickly but not abruptly.
The meeting equivalent is having a strong sense of where you
are going but being alert to the currents and tides of emotion
as displayed in people’s words and bodies.
Flying is not dangerous; it is coming back to earth that is
the problem. So too with any meeting: timing the landing so that
everybody arrives somewhere safe at the same time - ready
to pack up and go forward for the next one.
Most of our work means keeping our feet firmly on the ground,
but just occasionally we get the chance to fly - and there
is nothing more exciting.