Practice of Welcoming: A conversation with Bruce Anderson

The genesis of Come In From The Cold came from the yearning to reflect on how we, as people living in a community, can live a practice of welcoming.  Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting a gentlemen by the name of Bruce Anderson, who has made it his life’s work to explore this very idea. Bruce lives in Washington, in a place called Vashon Island, where he is immersed in living a practice of welcoming. I immediately invited him to share some time to chat with me and he graciously accepted.  So I invite you to have a glimpse into our conversation…

Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson

Me:  How did you become interested in this practice?

Bruce:  The trigger for me was moving to a little fishing town years ago.  I realized people become invisible among us…they disappear.  I wanted to figure out why that is, how do people disappear among us.  Then, after getting a job in social services, I met John O’Brien and Parker Palmer…another trigger indeed.  They tapped into the idea of each of us having our own story of feeling ‘not welcome’ and the feelings attached to that story.  We all have these stories.  When you understand that there is no ‘us and them’, and that it is just ‘we’, the lens with which you view the world through changes.  So it becomes about the investigation of what welcoming actually means.

Kirk:  What does welcoming mean to you?


Bruce:  Welcoming is not a thought, it is a feeling.  Parker Palmer says that you don’t have to train people to be welcoming and hospitable, you just have to uncover people’s barriers to it.  This was paramount for me as it changed my assumptions. All people know how to be welcoming and most want to be.

Everyone Welcome

Everyone Welcome

Kirk:  What gets in the way for people?

Bruce:  People who have felt unwelcome at some point in their lives, which we all have, go into situations thinking they will feel unwelcome.  You can be genuinely welcomed by other people, and still feel unwelcome.  Because of our experiences, I like to say, instead of having a chip on our shoulder, we have a pain on our shoulder…a pain saying ‘people aren’t going to want or need me’.  What we are actually finding out, through modern science, is that we humans are actually hard-wired with a finely-tuned fear based thinking system.  So it is this hard-wiring we’ve got to break through.

Kirk:  What is Community Activators about?

Bruce:  Well it has evolved through the years, but basically we provide training, facilitate workshops, provide inspirational speaking and help develop and strengthen teams within organizations primarily in the helping field.  Simply put, we believe there are three glues that make a community a welcoming and strong.

1. Everyone has unique gifts and capacities.
2. It is the responsibility of the community to welcome those gifts.
3. Ritualized behaviors, in individuals and groups create hope.

Welcoming, hope and gifts all require attention to each other.  Community Activators helps people investigate these concepts from a non-human services lens.  We get people to understand that if we pay attention to these three glues, building community is quite easy.  Again, people inherently want to be with each other, we just have to acknowledge our fear-based thinking and move beyond it.      ( http://www.communityactivators.com/)

Kirk:  Why are ritualized behaviors important?

Bruce:  Ritualized behaviors that celebrate the purpose of the group and remind the group about why it is collected to begin with.  It reminds a group what drove it to connect in the first place.

Kirk:  Welcome Vashon is something you started with a few local citizens.  What is it and how did it come about?

Bruce:  It started simply out of a desire to get our community to start thinking about how we can be more welcoming.  I started by being invited to have a conversation with someone who was interested in welcoming.  He had coffee with lots of people and ended the conversation with each person with this question:  “Who is one person you think is interested in this welcoming practice?”  That conversation led to another, then another and another.  We soon had 16 people sitting around a pot of soup which formed the group Welcome Vashon.        (http://welcomevashon.org/)

Kirk:  What’s with the stickers?

We All Belong Sticker

We All Belong Sticker


Bruce:  We decided to make these stickers, which say “We All Belong” in five different languages.  People put these stickers on the bumpers of their cars…you’ll see them everywhere.  It is great.  What it does, is reminds people how to look at their own lives and how they are approaching this idea.

Kirk:  What are the responses, both positive and negative, you see from your community when approached with this practice?

Bruce:  Never negative.  Never.  It’s almost like a no-brainer.  People are like, “Duh! Of course this is what we should be doing.”  The initial worry is was that people wouldn’t be as passionate about the idea as we were, but we couldn’t be more wrong.

Kirk:  So people interested and passionate about doing this in their own communities and neighborhoods should just simply do it?

Bruce:  People carry this value that everyone should belong.  You start with people having conversations.  Use the question we spoke about at the end of each conversation.  One person at a time.  You help community through action.  What you’ll find is amazing.  The illusion within welcomers is that you feel like you are more passionate than others, which is not the case.  The people who are passionate about it will emerge and get involved.

Kirk:  What drives you?

Hope springs...

Hope at work…

Bruce:  What drives me is around hope.  When I see modern science mesh with indigenous practice…when they are in agreement.  When this happens, I pay attention.  What are our common rituals?  How did indigenous people create hope vs. modern science and ritualized behavior?  These are the questions that drive me.  If your ritualistic behaviors are negative, then your place will breed negativity.  If your ritualistic behaviors are welcoming acts…well then…

Kirk:  What do you want your legacy to be?

Bruce:  For me, I’d like my legacy to be about expanding love…as large as that sounds. Look at the three glues we spoke about and ask the question:  When is it that we are one?  When that is achieved…yeah.  That’s what I want my legacy to be.

Bruce at work...

Bruce at work…

I want to thank Bruce Anderson for taking the time to sit with me and talk about his views on a subject that this blog seeks to understand.  This exploration is beautiful and the people are what make it so.
(Follow the links provided within this post to learn more about Bruce)

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