One welcome is not enough
I’ve just come back from a focusing coaching session with Rob Rave, in which he was helping me get in the right place for preparing my workshop at the European Brief Therapy Association (EBTA) conference in Bern this weekend. It was amazing how the focusing (and Rob) helped me to shift from an anxiety feeling in the pit of my stomach, to a more ready state, with a feeling of relaxation, and a sense of movement and alertness, as I imagined myself walking in my local park, the ideas coming thick and fast. I could not help moving there and then, which might have alarmed or amused passers-by, as I was gently swaying while sitting, eyes closed, on a bench on the street in the middle of London’s teeming Spitalfields!
And now as I return home and to my desk I feel the urge to write a blog post that has been brewing for a little while, since experiencing the warmest of welcomes on a recent Palestine visit, and hearing a little story about the Palestinian man who tried to say “welcome” in English.
I am looking forward now to my Bern workshop, and in particular to welcoming the people who attend it. I have come to think that this is the most important thing of all, that people feel welcome, feel welcomed. I hope that I always have welcomed people, but I don’t recall thinking consciously about it until I attended a training course on accelerated learning with Mark McKergow and Paul Z Jackson back in 2004. The beauty of a ‘training for trainers’ course is the possibility of a complete match between process and content, and I assumed that every little thing that Mark and Paul did as trainers was deliberate and conscious modelling. So when Mark said at the beginning, “Welcome, welcome to Bath, welcome to this three-day accelerated learning course”, I assumed that saying “Welcome” three times at the beginning was an essential part of any accelerated-learning-based course. So I started saying “Welcome” at least three times at the start of my courses (until my willing accelerated learning pupil at BRIEF, Chris Iveson, started doing it too, when I then bumped it up to four).
What went on to happen is what so often happens, that my practice affected my position – the more I said “Welcome” the more welcoming I felt, and the more importance I ascribed to welcoming people. And, I hope, the more people felt welcome, and what better starting point for a course, or for anything else?
Then, when I was in Palestine in August, and heard Burhan’s story of the man who tried to say “Welcome” in English, I realised I have been welcoming people in a Palestinian fashion all along. We visited Burhan’s village in the far north of the West Bank, and it is hard to conceive of anyone feeling more welcomed anywhere. It wasn’t just what was said, it was the way it was said (and there’s a hint of my workshop to come), and the food we were given, too.
I told Burhan how struck I was by the welcome, and he told me how important this is for Palestinians, and how they repeat “Welcome” at least three times! Though they might say it in different ways. This is how Burhan explained it to me: ‘In Arabic, “ahlan wa sahlan” is two welcomes, where “ahlan” means “we are now one family” and “sahlan” means “I hope your way here wasn’t difficult”, and it’s polite to repeat this and use other words like “keef halak”, which means “how are you?” and “keef el saha”, meaning “I hope your health is ok”. So in Arabic you repeat it many times to show that you are warm and sincere’.
So when the old Palestinian man was told that in English, for “welcome” you say “how do you do?”, he assumed this must be four different ways of saying “welcome”, otherwise it wouldn’t be enough. He assumed that the word “how” meant “ahlan” and “do” meant “sahlan” and you means “seha” (your health is ok). So he divided the words and said them slowly, leaving pauses in between: how do you do, as each word was a different way of saying “welcome”. And he thought he must have welcomed them very well, because he had welcomed them several times, in different ways. Because one welcome is not enough.