Last weekend I was able to join the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for their meeting with Angela Bryant and Charles Wynder from VISIONS, Inc. to discuss the next steps for our diocese’s work. If you’ve been a Nuts and Bolts reader for the last few years, you’ll remember that we began diocesan-wide conversations at our Diocesan Convention two years ago when we began the Waters of Reconciliation series. At last year’s Convention, we met the folks from VISIONS which was followed by their meeting in January 2017 with the Task Force and members of the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council. In February and March, some 450+ members of our Household (with a waiting list!!) gathered in either Brighton or Detroit for an all-day vestry workshop with VISIONS. This year’s Ministry Fair continued the discussion with Heidi Kim, The Episcopal Church’s Missioner for Racial Reconciliation, delivering our keynote address followed by a choice of 20 different workshops that continued to build on the theme of inclusion and diversity. Last Saturday’s session was the next segment in our work together.
At the workshop, we practiced leading discussions using the “8 Guiding Principles for Successful Outcomes Across Cultural Differences” we had witnessed during our Vestry Days. I’m sure you will all have the opportunity to hear these again at workshops across the diocese. I’m going to share them here because they are relevant for use in almost any group meeting since they are based on showing respect for one another – also a key promise we make when we reaffirm our Baptismal Covenant.
1. “Try on.” This first guideline gives us room to be open-minded to the opinions, feelings and thoughts of others. When we’re willing to try on new ideas, we have the freedom to keep those aspects that fit and put aside those that don’t. Here’s my true confession: I have to work hard sometimes to see possibilities rather than focus all the things I might think are wrong with new ideas or suggestions. I like the idea of trying new ideas on for size and giving space for new things.
2. “It’s OK to disagree.” Let’s face it, not all of our deeply held opinions and ideas will be shared by everyone. And that’s ok. If I’m really honest, I’m not always right (Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone!). I think we can learn so much more when we’re ready to listen to others with different ideas without feeling that we must correct what we see as their errors. I have some very good friends that don’t share the same religious expression, political philosophy, or worldview and I value these relationships because, when I can listen without judgment, I can learn and grow in my own thinking.
3. “It’s not OK to blame, shame or attack ourselves or others.” When we blame or shame, we close our minds to others and are less likely to engage in problem-solving. When we blame ourselves, it becomes easy to wallow in our guilt and not move in positive directions. It’s one thing to accept responsibility for our words and actions; it’s another altogether to heap guilt upon ourselves. A friend shared this with me years ago: “Don’t should on yourself.” Good advice.
4. “Practice self-focus.” This summer I’ve been reading some of Ignatius’ teachings and have learned that it’s good to recognize how my feelings and thoughts are affecting the way I hear and react to others. Being a little introspective and trying to understand why I might want to respond in a particular way has helped me avoid shaming and blaming. Using “I” sentences rather than “we” or “you” also helps me take ownership of my ideas. Speaking for others is always a temptation when I want to add weight to my opinions. Honestly, I can’t speak accurately for others – even when I think I can.
5. “Notice both the content and the process.” In a discussion, I might think I have the very best ideas because nobody is disagreeing with me. If I’m attentive, I will be “reading” the room to observe facial expressions and body language. Is someone not participating? Are there people with “deer in the headlights” expressions? If people are not engaged, it doesn’t matter how great my ideas are, we won’t likely be able to work together. I will need to stop and see how I can draw them back gently.
6. “Practice ‘both/and’ thinking.” Really, there’s generally more than one way to look at things. I wish I had learned this a long time ago because I know I am inclined to add my thoughts beginning with an emphatic “but” – not with the intention (I don’t think) that I believe my idea is better but to show that there is more than one way to consider the issue. How much better to begin my thought with “and” because it doesn’t negate or minimize what the other person has contributed and keeps the conversation going. This will take practice and it is well worth it!
7. “Be aware of both the intent and impact of your actions.” This morning I blew this one before I could catch myself. I reacted to someone’s comment with a not-so-well-thought-out reply which had an impact I never intended. Had I taken a breath and thought for just a moment, I might have responded with words that had the same general meaning but would have sounded so much gentler. My intention was not to be hurtful at all and, I fear, the impact of the comment might have stung a bit.
8. “Confidentiality.” We need to honor one another by not repeating what others say and do without their express permission. We also must not use another’s words or actions to shame or hurt them later. It’s so important that we create safe places in which to share ideas and thoughts knowing that our words won’t leave the room. I bet we all have experienced the pain of learning that someone has shared our words in settings we may not have intended. This breaks trust so fast and can damage our ability to move ahead with our work and relationships.
I can think of a personal example to share but I don’t have permission so I’ll leave it right here.
Most groups establish some sort of “norms” of behavior when they start working together. These 8 guidelines might be just right for beginning any new work in your congregations and deaneries. As one of the facilitators for Whitaker’s Exploring Your Spiritual Journey, I’m going to suggest these to this fall’s participants as guidelines for our group work together. I think these might even be helpful in family conversations to honor the thoughts and ideas of each family member. The more we become comfortable using them in church settings, the sooner we can make a difference in discussions with others outside the church context.
Let us pray
–O Spirit of God,
we ask you to help orient
all our actions by your inspirations,
carry them on by your gracious assistance,
that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from you
and through you be happily ended.
Amen. (from ignatianspirituality.com)
~The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council