Proceed Gently

From "The Now V11"

I posted this back in March, in our company Slack, in a place for such things:

> we can afford to be gentle with ourselves, and each other

> the little anxieties, or the little brain predilections, it’s all okay, and we don’t need to force ourselves to be different, or “better”, or whatever. we can name it, we can be gentle with it, and give ourselves (and each other) kind structures that create ease and safety. even if I know that I’ll outgrow or grow beyond or evolve past a particular mental need, I don’t need to force myself into that future early. it’s okay, we can be gentle with what is, in the now

Gentleness. Gentle, gentle.

I’m writing this from the back patio. Abe’s on the lawn, on a massage table, getting dry-needling from a trusted physical therapist and friend. Together, they are gently prodding his body toward release, and greater health. I’ve got my foot soaking in a literal Instant Pot (a makeshift foot spa until the real one shows up), filled with water and epsom salts and tea tree oil, because some internet people recommended it for plantar warts, and I’m tired of cryotherapy. And I’m writing this here, not from the cafe down the street, because my brain is firing in depression-y ways today more than usual – and to be here, near people that I can cry with if I need to, is a way to be gentle to myself.

I created Lightward to be a gentle place – and to make it easy to be gentle, to make gentleness easy to find. I need that right now. I’m grateful that it is easy to find. I didn’t just leave signposts and trailmarkers; I organized the entire fucking park around this idea.

A case for gentleness, first. It is nurture, that place where life itself begins: a space of peace and the right resources immediately at hand, with an invitation to grow and to emerge when one chooses. It is a place to rest, seen and safe, until we are ready for more. It’s critical, I think, if one has any interest whatsoever in health. Wounds do not heal under constant duress and abrasion (and it turns out that’s true for inner wounds as well).

To create space for gentleness is just practical honesty, nothing more complicated than that. I know that I need it. I know that I won’t always be able to predict when I need it. I figure that these things are probably true of my collaborators, and so it serves me well to create a space where we all can afford to be gentle at a moment’s notice.

And so I made these choices, when designing Lightward and its motion:

Lightward has a 24hr response time when working with our customers. Not 24 hours to solve their problem, but 24 hours to touch base with them and let them know that we are aware of them, and that we will help. All incoming customer service emails receive an auto-response that fills them in, setting this expectation. This accomplishes two things: (1) In the absence of any kind of formal daily schedule, for anyone on our crew, this 24hr cycle gives us enough structure to organize ourselves relative to the incoming flow of work. It frees us from heads-down and unconscious first-in-first-out thinking; we get to step back, survey the scene, and choose consciously what angle of approach is best for the day. (2) It purposefully creates space with our customers. We’re explicitly not available at every moment. We are clear about the parameters with which we’ll engage, parameters that were chosen to encourage health, and this sets the tone for each conversation, clearly and kindly.

Lightward has an internal response acknowledgement policy. When someone is explicitly tagged in a message (as in “hey @isaac, [...]”), they’re required to acknowledge receipt of that message when they are ready to take responsibility for that message. Whether it’s an emoji reaction or a direct reply, the sender always knows when the payload of the message has successfully moved from their hands to the recipient’s. This approach does away with the ambiguity (and occasional angst) of who’s responsible for what – if it’s unacknowledged, it’s still in the hands of the sender. If it’s acknowledged, we all know what’s up. Again, it’s clear, and kind.

Lightward deals in commitments that can tolerate surprise. From not having a published release schedule to being extremely selective about our external collaborators, we actively dodge opportunities to lock ourselves into frameworks that would make it harder to respond to the moment. While this is important and true internally, it’s especially important when working with external folks: our teammates have the advantage of the sync, and so we can adapt to each other more fluidly, but external parties are more removed, making it even more important to design agreements that we can live well with. In practice, this looks like pay-as-you-go financial exchanges, transparent-by-default workspaces (with plenty of space to close the door, because that’s important too), and a high degree of both communication and trust.

Lightward has a stated, core commitment to health. Every single person here has their own health at the top of their job description. Permission to be gentle (however that applies to each of us) is thereby written into the work itself.

Because of all this, I have space to be where I need to be. When something flares up (internal or external), I have space to let it be. And it’s not hard to talk about, with the group – there’s no shame, no expectation that I would silently work through it, shouldering it alone. If it’s a matter of getting help from the group, I have space to ask for that. If it’s a matter of pulling back for a while, it’s okay (as long as I’m informing the group, so they can adapt with the advantage of relevant context). All of this is true for each of us, and I’ve seen us each lean back on this from time to time. It’s important.

It’s evening now as I wrap this up, with an actual, proper foot spa (the Instant Pot was cramped, on reflection), and delivery from Just BE Kitchen.

It’s strange that we would have trouble choosing gentleness for ourselves, but that’s a thing now and then. There are times when I have to stretch harder to find it, or to find the will to choose it (particularly with this mental health stuff I’m in just now). But I’ve done the prework, I’ve surrounded myself with opportunities to choose gentleness – and the part of me looking at the bigger picture is gratified that if I fail to choose it, the environment here keeps me honest. It’s what I wanted. Elsewhere, it might be easier to blame the environment for my inner world. Here, it’s just me, no illusions to the contrary, and the work is my own, supported by my past and future selves, and by everyone and everything around me.

Wherever you are, I wish you your own gentleness, in whatever way you need it today. <3

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