The Law Center team recently had four unplugged days together at Occidental Arts and Ecology Center after two and a half years apart. Our retreat priorities were to (re)connect and listen to one another, to listen to the lush beautiful land at OAEC, and to better understand each other's values and shared organizational values.
To kick us off, one of the co-organizers and facilitators of our retreat, Chris Tittle, shared some invigorating group games that he learned from YES! Jam facilitation experiences. With all the listening, sharing, journaling, introspection and group work we did throughout the retreat, none was more transformative than a game Chris shared that we played throughout the retreat called Secret Sweeties.
The premise is simple: pick the name of a coworker out of a hat and throughout the four days together, your job is to give your Secret Sweetie at least one gift a day, without them knowing who it came from. We created a shared list of what gifts we would each like to receive and the gifts we could offer or help contribute towards.
Some of us were surprised at our initial fear of the assignment. Could we come up with good gifts? Could we convince our co-workers to help pull off the gifts? Would our sweeties like it?
We all agreed there is unexpected joy in witnessing others receive love and appreciation, especially when the gift honors their gifts with attention and intention. Who knew how endlessly creative we could be when lavishing our sweeties? Some of us are introverts so we leveraged other coworkers to perform a dramatic reading of Cardi B song lyrics or interpretive dances to Lady Gaga and Stevie Nicks. Some of our sweeties wanted gifts that were more than one person could handle, so we delegated distractions, music making, and altar building to pull off a mystical moonlit walk.
Instead of trying to be perfect, we leaned into the game of it and simply played. In the flow of the play, we lost the fear of failing and just tried things out for the fun of it. One coworker remembered they loved to write speculative fiction and created a heroic origin story for their secret sweetie. Some of us were in tears after we heard the story, touched and able to see the uniqueness and beauty of the sweetie like never before.
It was fun to give gratitude to others, but when it was our turn to receive, it wasn’t always easy. Why is it so difficult to receive praise in such a public and visible way? There’s very few spaces in our culture where it’s safe to receive love publicly and be proud of ourselves. Learning to love and be loved publicly is necessary to do the work that we’re doing.
If a collective isn’t able to show gratitude for each other, they’ll fall apart. As a worker self-directed organization working to build a more just, cooperative, and interdependent world, showing gratitude grounds us in what is good and what we share. Finding moments to uplift each other's unique gifts and contributions is vital to maintain our connection and feel seen amongst our colleagues. Showing gratitude to each other is at the core of relationship building. Practicing unabashed love and appreciation for each other is a liberatory practice in movement work.
Secret Sweeties started as a game but gave us the most profound lessons of the retreat: the joy that we create when we love without fear; giving appreciation and love provides a special kind of sustenance; there are endless ways to express appreciation for someone; and when we collaborate with a spirit of play, our fear of failure dissolves