Action learning and space or ‘rummelighed’

I am a mentor on the Charityworks Graduate Management Programme which provides learning and experiences relevant to first level management roles within the non-profit sector for graduates. Delivered over 12 months, it is accredited by the Institute of Leadership & Management and is designed to attract, grow and retain future managers and leaders for the charity sector.

I have been a mentor for a number of years and with both of the graduates that I have mentored I have found it a privilege to work with inspiring, motivated, young people who are passionate about carving out a career in the third sector and making a difference in the world.

At a session with a Danish mentee I was talking about action learning and was describing how being in an action learning set can be a powerfully sustaining experience.  I described it as a place and space away from the ‘busyness’ of work to pause and think about ‘how’ you do the job.  I shared some of my experiences of both being a set member and facilitating sets and how, in my experience, the process of action learning provides space that set members often describe as precious and ‘a luxury’.

Having listened to my descriptions of action learning Rikke told me about a Danish word- ‘rummelighed’.  This word is, as a concept “rummelighed” and as an adjective, to be “rummelig”; translated directly, it means ‘spacious’ – or even ‘roomy’.

Rikke went on to say,

“The word can be used literally, as in a room or place being spacious, or metaphorically to describe people or organisations. The Danish dictionary defines the word (in the metaphorical sense) as “The ability to understand and accept many and very differing opinions”.

For me it’s not just about opinions, but also behaviours and background.”

She went on to describe working in a Danish homeless shelter and said, “The staff and the organisation have a very ‘spacious’ approach to the work there, because they are dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and people with severe mental health issues and lots of anger and frustration. Being ‘spacious’ in that work then means to accept and understand the people accessing their services and have room for their behaviour (in a controlled way of course e.g. there was no judgement about drug use, but they had to shoot up in a controlled environment, the so-called ‘fixing room’). The closest word in the English vocabulary is probably ‘inclusive’, and I guess it’s a kind of mixture of being open and inclusive, because it’s about having ‘space’ in your mind and understanding for all kinds of people and opinions.”

I was fascinated by her use of the word and the sense that the ‘space’ is both physical, literal and external but also internal and a metaphor for openness, inclusivity and maybe connection.

Action learning so often seems to provide set members with this space, away from doing work to reflect and think about their personal, internal worlds and the external worlds within which they operate.  A set as ‘rummelig’ is a delightful way to think about this space.

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