I was talking to a friend and colleague last night. He shared a bit about how his facilitation teams were beginning to run into conflict as they worked together. Tensions were building, demanding attention. The issues that were rising to the surface were issues of power associated with race, class and gender.
His facilitation teams work as a part of a program designed to develop strong community leaders who are committed to building equity and justice. It has run for over 10 years and has never seen this level of dissention. His question was, how have we gone all of this time without ever making conversations about oppression and power a deliberate part of our work? How have past leaders of this program managed to smooth all of this over?
Thinking about a recent Training for Trainers that I’d facilitated, I began to respond, “The stuff just hits the fan in this work. I’ve yet to lead a training for facilitators where tensions don’t rise to a level of intensity that far exceeds anyone’s initial expectations. When design and facilitation teams focus on dismantling and healing oppression, they bring themselves to the table and that includes their internalized superiority and inferiority. Each facilitator’s stuff starts begging to be seen, named and healed.” I concluded, “there is just no getting around it!” He nodded his head in agreement.
In reflecting back on that conversation, as wise as those words seem - “there is just no getting around it!” - the more relevant and complete truth is that, in most circumstances, “getting around it” is the dominant skill being practiced. Regardless of the group focus: personal growth, spiritual development, building capacity as leaders or even grassroots political movements (where the entire purpose is to shift power) - NOT addressing behaviors related to power and oppression is the modus operandi and this approach is heavily guarded by most professional facilitators. In fact, all of us facilitators who have been reared in this society have a baseline training in common: the ability to deny what is right in front of us.
It should be no surprise that effective avoidance is the gold standard in professional development programs for it is the standard mode of operating “professionally” throughout Western society. We must realize that we conduct programs to increase effective and equitable leadership within that context. The context is a society that has its foundation based in brutality, the discarding of sacred traditions, and the systematic removal of language and symbols that remind us of our essential selves and the deep interconnection of all living.
We are developing and leading community-building efforts within a society that chose, and still chooses, the systematic destruction of communities and has bolstered its existence with law-enforced forgetting, replacing truth with fairy tales that carry a calming, disarming and debilitating elixir. Ultimately, we’ve been reared in this society, so whether we live at the center or on the margins, we share an intimate relationship with and dependency on denying what is right in front of us.
Therefore, if you’re providing: leadership development, community building, organization development or grassroots organizing, the work must involve systematic repair. This systematic repair calls for re-cognizing and resisting societal lies. It means re-membering who we really are. Simply put, if you are in the business of developing people, communities or organizations within this society, you are in the healing business. Áse
In my next blog, I will offer concrete and critical practices for any group intending justice, inclusion and equity. In the meantime, consider this question within yourself: What is one practice that my group could institute beginning in our next meeting that would help us to recognize societal lies and/or help us to remember who we really are? (I’d love to hear your thoughts)